Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Cam (2018) - Movie Review

The Internet has enriched the human way of life in many ways. Unprecedented access to information, being able to contact people all over the world with remarkable ease, and all the porn a person could ask for. But of all of its attributes, the most impactful one of all is one that most people seem to forget: It gives people the ability to be someone else.

No matter how we try to bridge the gap, or possibly out of attempts to directly prevent it, the digital self and the non-digital self are never a complete overlap. There’s only so much that people are willing to let complete strangers know about themselves, and in certain industries like blogging or being an online sex worker, pseudonyms have their reason for being. Much as there are things we’d rather not let the Internet world be privy to, so too do we sometimes prefer online activity to remain online, and working under different personas is an easy, if far from foolproof, way to do that.

But that separation, that intentional digital dissociation, can have strange effects on the human mind. Spend long enough acting as if you have both feet in two separate worlds, and the digital self can begin to feel like a true self, or worse, the only self. All of the footprints one leaves on the cybernetic landscape create an identity of their own, and if it goes too far, both halves of the same person can feel like they’re at odds. I myself have gone through some of these notions concerning my own pen name, the stock I put into, and the struggle I have with trying to reconcile the occasionally unsavoury shit I do on social media vs. my actions away from the computer.

With all this in mind, this film’s main premise is fucking terrifying. Identity theft is a prevailing hazard in the Internet age, and in regards to digital self, one of the harder ones to crack down on. This situation, of someone discovering that someone else has taken their image, their identity, and using it for their own ends, is a common fear. And as depicted through the eyes of Alice, a cam girl played with nerve-shredding brilliance by Madeline Brewer, we see how that situation can feel like an atom bomb to the chest.

The idea of someone pretending to be you, and getting away with it while you are helpless to stop them, is a ripe idea in the realm of psychological cinema, and this film never relents in expressing it at full force. It lets the shear dread and existential horror of the situation hang in the hair like the thick odour of sweat and sex after a successful night’s work, anchoring us to Alice’s perspective to give this a Perfect Blue-esque vibe, only with an even further emphasis on the Internet, how we use it, and yet detailing its darker corners without outright vilifying the entire industry.

It highlights both the reality and the uninformed perception of the business, exemplified through Alice’s attempt to talk to the police about her dilemma. Their response is a combination of condescension, impractical advice (with how much we use the Internet every single day, for work and leisure, “just stay off the Internet” doesn’t solve anything) and showing more fixation on the lurid details of her work than actually helping her. It reflects some harsh truths about how incongruent Internet use still is for some people, as if the impact of being able to access a global-scale network of information hasn’t quite sunk in yet over the last two decades.

But chalking this film solely up to ideas of identity theft, commentary on the cam girl industry, or even Internet use in general, is still refusing to give this film the credit it deserves. No, the major thing that this film pushes for is the idea of the digital self vs. the non-digital self. The film plays the psychological aspects of this duality with both down-to-earth reality and frightening nuance, showing the many ways that the two reflect, deflect and overlap each other. All this culminates in the kind of finale that might rank as one of the best of the entire year, a war for the self with the Internet as its battleground.

It’s smart, it’s emotional, it’s insanely tense, and it follows in the footsteps of films like Searching and series like Black Mirror in how it tells pitch-black truths about how the Internet, fundamentally, has changed us as a species.

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