What Netflix did next: cam girls & stolen identities

What Netflix did next: cam girls & stolen identities

Are you still watching? — Writer Megan Nolan bravely ventures into the latest Netflix Original releases, in an attempt to figure out if anything is even worth our time anymore. This week, it’s Cam: an uncanny (and actually good!) thriller about social media and sex work.


In the first few weeks after I moved to London, somebody used photos I had posted online to pose as me on OkCupid.

I was sitting in Holborn on my lunch break from the temp job I was working, pushing a pot of hardening hummus from Leon into a little kale salad, when I got a text from my friend Crispin.

“I didn’t know you were using OkCupid,” he said. I startled, and asked what he meant.

He sent me back a screenshot of myself on OKC, with the name “bitter_branches”. The profile picture was one I had taken just a few days before in the mirror of an office lift, wearing a white shirt tucked into high waisted blue shorts, eyes cast down towards the phone and red lipstick smirking slightly.

“Someone is using my pics to catfish on OKC. Most chic thing that’s ever happened to me tbqh” I tweeted, and I did find it weirdly flattering and weirdly funny. But it was also so, so uncanny, and not just for the most obvious reasons. It was strange, certainly, to see someone using my image as currency of their own. But stranger still was that the fake-me was a version of myself I had been teetering on the edge of actually becoming.

I was single, technically, although I did not want to be. I had begun to think that I should force myself to accept it by beginning to date again. I had tested the waters by telling my ex that I had been asked out (true) and that I didn’t know whether to say yes (false). Predictably shitty and unclear conversations ensued, and I still had not committed to putting myself out there.

So when I sat there in the baking June summer, the hottest I had ever known in a place I lived, staring at myself on the screen, it was all so tangibly close. The fake-me was so almost the real-me that I felt fondly towards her, as well as wanting to kill her.

I reported the profile and it was removed swiftly, but I wished afterwards I had not been so hasty. I wished that I had waited and made a profile of my own, struck up a conversation with me, see what I had to say. It would have been nice to know what it was like out there, before I came and became her myself.

Cam is a psychological thriller which plays delightfully with the uncanny valley of stolen online identity. Alice (Madeleine Brewer) is a cam girl, performing under the name Lola, and her status is steadily climbing. Months of nurturing her fan base and testing the efficacy of various gimmicks (light BDSM, eating, bathing) have paid off and her rank is rising.

After a jarring real-life encounter with one of her horny patrons, Alice finds herself locked out of the Lola account, but things go from annoying to completely FUCKED when she realises that someone else is still performing there. Someone in a bedroom identical to her own. Someone who looks exactly like her, but without any of the boundaries.

It’s so good! Like, so, so good! It’s the perfect amount of nasty without feeling gross and exploitative. Madeleine Brewer – who you’ll recognise from The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange Is The New Black – is consistently brilliant. She nails it from start to finish, from being so cute and charismatic that you can totally see why she’s making so much coin, to her visceral horror and disgust as she watches fake-Lola deep-throat a gun to the delight of her followers.

On the note of the gun deep-throat, this is one of the film’s strongest points: a clear, confident look at casual sexualised violence and just how titillating and marketable it is. Maybe that sounds a little trite? We’re all so blasé these days, right? The front page of Pornhub is frequently as nightmarish as the Saw franchise, but that’s all good because of sex-positivity or something?

Cam captures the sheer ickiness of compulsive ghoulish viewers who aren’t sure whether they want to fuck Lola or murder her, without being hysterical about it, and – crucially – without condemning the sex workers themselves. I was pleasantly surprised by how equitable the approach to sex work was here; the ending resists an easy redemption narrative, and continues to validate sex work as a career. When I looked up the team behind this I found that was probably because a former sex worker, Isa Mazzei, had co-written Cam. Fucking yes! I want to live in a world where we can have an amazing horror film about sex work which doesn’t torture or demean the sex worker, written by an actual sex worker. This is God’s work.



WORTH A WATCH WHEN HUNGOVER/ DRUNK? Yes to drunk, no to hangover – it’s too tense and claustrophobic for The Fear.

Follow Megan Nolan on Twitter.

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