In Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei’s horror film Cam — which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal — the villain isn’t sex work, but a camgirl’s lack of protection and agency.
This is an excerpt of the essay which appears in the ebook Beyond Empowertainment: Feminist Horror and The Struggle for Female Agency. Get your copy of the ebook here.
These days, most people on the internet must be at least vaguely familiar with the notion of camgirls: young women who film and broadcast themselves on dedicated platforms where paying viewers (mostly men) can send them comments and offer them gifts. Fewer of us know about the daily reality of a camgirl. As conversations around sex work and feminism enter the mainstream, the daily life of online sex workers is something of a last frontier.
In Cam, Madeline Brewer plays Alice, a young woman who spends most of her time and energy perfecting her online image to attract as many viewers as possible and go up in the ranks of the website. Under the name of Lola, Alice entertains her viewers and biggest — read, richest — fans according to strict self-imposed rules: she never takes her top off (it is considered cheating), but isn’t opposed to faking a hyper realistic slit-throat suicide to get a few more views. The film opens on Alice/Lola doing just that, foreshadowing Cam’s insidious horror undercurrent. One day, Alice finds herself unable to log into her account: someone else who looks exactly like her, and who seems to be standing in an exact replica of her carefully customised room, has taken her place.
As Alice tries desperately to recover her account and chase away this digital ghost of herself, Cam explores the details of video sex work without discrediting the camgirls themselves. Naturally, the job comes with its wealth of creeps, but most of them are harmless. Alice herself intelligently plays on the offensive cliche that sees sex work as inherently dangerous (rather than simply stereotyped and therefore under-protected). The hostile user whose menacing comments prompted her “suicide” was in fact one of Lola’s friends, a fan logged in through another account to help her make the stunt appear more realistic.
Want to read the rest of the interview? Order a copy of our ebook on feminist horror beyond empowertainment here.