The Inspiration For Netflix's Disturbing Psychological Thriller Cam Is A Real Cam Girl

Photo: Courtesy of BCAMlumhouse Productions/Netflix.
The boldest horror film of 2018 lives on Netflix.
Cam is a film for the digital generation, one that seeks to shake up society's puritanical views of sex work. Told from the perspective of ambitious cam girl Alice (Madeline Brewer), the horror of Cam comes not from Alice doing her job (which, FYI, she's very good at, even her mum thinks so) but from when her digital identity is stripped from her. One day, Alice wakes up to find another "Lola" — Alice's pseudonym — on the internet... one that shares her face and is stealing her viewers.
As Alice figures out exactly who has stolen her face (or, rather, what has stolen it), we're with her every step of the way, living in her fear and ultimately rooting for her to get back to the thing that she loves to do — which, yes, is cam work.
If Cam is a cautionary tale, it's a warning to the world about the hazards of the internet age, a sort of Black Mirror-esque take on a Hitchcockian tale. It's unsettling as ever — even before Alice puts in place a brutal plan to cause her digital Lola clone to glitch. (Hint: It involves smashing her actual face.)
Body horror with a message about representation? We're in.
Refinery29 spoke with first-time screenwriter Isa Mazzei (a former cam girl herself) about that brutal ending, what disturbing online moment from her own life inspired the movie, and where Cam fits into the #MeToo landscape.
The idea that someone is walking around with your face, claiming your identity, is classically scary. Why explore this in your first horror movie?
What I love about horror is that you can take your fears and emotions and translate them into physical representations. Lola’s [double] came about due to this anxiety over a [disconnect] I felt, over who I was online and who I was in the real world, and where that stopped and started. I had my [camming] content pirated and put all over the internet, without any attribution to me. I would find videos of myself online, without any links back to me, and I would be called, like, 'frizzy-haired pale girl' or something [instead of my name]. It was a really weird, alienating experience where it was this disembodied form of myself that I had no agency over. That inspired the script.
Alice is a sex worker and the heroine of the movie. Why was it important for you to portray sex workers in a different way than they are usually seen on screen?
I was so frustrated with portrayals of sex workers as helpless victims that needed to be saved, or, alternatively, as overly eroticised props who [get] murdered or are the butt of a joke. [Sex workers on camera] are very objectified. I think it’s very damaging to people who perform sex work. The goal of the movie, before I even knew it would be a horror movie, was to destigmatise sex work and get an audience to empathise with a cam girl.
You also really humanise the people who are watching Alice's work. Was that important as well?
Yes. Just as we shame sex workers, we also shame people engaging with sex work. It’s just a super fucked up shame cycle, of what can be a really beautiful, symbiotic relationship. When I was camming, I loved a lot of my cam viewers. They were incredible friends to me, and were very respectful. They were normal people with lives and quirks. I wanted to bring as much of that into the film as possible. I actually scripted 98 pages of chats for Alice to interact with, and each of the character in the chat has his own personality, has inside jokes with other cam viewers, and [individual side conversations] with other [people in the chat room]. I wanted to do justice to the cam viewers.
The ending of Cam, and what really happened to Alice, is fairly ambiguous. How do you explain it?
At the end of the day, this is a film about digital identity. Alice has something that [the digital clone Lola] doesn’t have: her physical body. Through this epic showdown [with Alice and her digital clone], she is able to get her digital body back. It was important to me that Alice went back to camming. It’s her passion, it’s what she loves to do, and it’s where she places her ambition. Sex work is work, and it can be a super fulfilling experience for someone, like it is for Alice.
At the beginning of the film, Alice is Lola, and there’s not much distinction between who she is online and who she is offline. She doesn’t know how to separate the performance from the performer. At the end, when she goes back, all these symbols of performance that she rejects in the beginning, like the makeup and the wig, she has fully embraced. She has separated the performance and the performer.
The ending is brutal, with Alice slamming her face against the keyboard to break her nose and cause "Lola" to glitch. What inspired this intense moment?
We had a lot of conversations about [David Cronenberg] and specifically [his 1983 film] Videodrome. Cronenberg utilises a lot of body horror, but it’s never gratuitous. Yes, it’s gory, and uncomfortable, but it is always serving the character. In Cam, it's Alice using her physical body, which is what she has over this digital identity. What [Alice] has, and therefore can use, is a flesh-and-blood body.
Where does Cam fit into the #MeToo landscape?
Cam is saying that women want agency over their own bodies, period. If we look at specific moments in the film, we can point to Barney [played by Michael Dempsey] who represents this patriarchal character. He feels entitled to the female body. He believes that because he has given Alice money in the past, he is entitled to personal information from her, to do what he wants from her. It’s an example of how society as a whole treats women.
When we look at the cop scene in the movie, all the things that the cops say to Alice [like when they hit on her after learning she is a cam girl] were taken from things that people have said to me, in real life, or to friends of mine in real life. That’s the reason why assaults go underreported. It’s why sex workers don’t always turn to the police for help. Often the institutions in place to help us [don’t]. I hope this film can be a part of this conversation. It’s a fun film, it’s a thrilling film, but it incorporates these larger ideas that are important to think about and be represented [in media].
Cam is on Netflix now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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