Alice in Camland.

One of the most exhilarating films I’ve seen at the fest so far. Alice (aka Lola) is a camgirl. For those unfamiliar with exactly what that is, the film spends time showing us Alice in her element. She spends hours a day doing her live webcam shows where her viewers pay her depending on what she does. The first scene is great, giving a lot of what we need to know about how Alice’s daily work goes and actually delivering some well-built suspense right off the bat.

Not too surprisingly, Alice keeps her work and private life fairly separate. Her mom doesn’t know anything about it but her younger brother does. It’s profitable work, as she is able to afford to live in a house on her own.  It’s interesting to see this line of work be portrayed as what it is: work. Complete with the long hours put behind it, the competition that comes with it, and the constant struggle to maintain, satisfy, and build a reliable clientele.  An early scene showing how a rival cam girl manages to out-do Alice’s goals is really efficient in showing the crushing disappointment and defeat Alice feels. She’s likable enough at that point that we can’t help but empathize with her. It’s a cut-throat business, and you have to be really good to succeed.

That celebration won’t last…

Then something strange happens: Alice is locked out of her account, unable to log in to the site in order to do her show. Someone else is using her account. Someone who looks exactly like her, uses the same name, and seemingly performs from the same place: her bedroom.  This new Lola is an exact mirror image, and if at first Alice thinks these might be old recordings that someone might be replaying, this is quickly dispelled when Alice is able to interact with her like one of her clients.

As Alice tries to figure out who’s behind this, the alternate Lola makes things worse by doing things that Alice wouldn’t, resulting in some of her clients popping up in her real life and in Lola’s popularity exploding. Lola manages a level of success and notoriety that wasn’t attainable before. Alice is determined to get her livelihood back.

Those clients need to be satisfied, you know?

Working incredibly well as a thriller, the theme at its core is a fascinating and increasingly topical one: online identity theft. Alice has literally been replaced with a duplicate online version of herself, which is as real and influential as anybody can be.  This is closer to a reality than we’d like. Our identities, especially our image, *can* be stolen from us, and with increasing ease as new technologies develop.  And with the growing concern of spyware which is now casually believed to be a given, especially on social media, this speaks to a very real possible threat. Although here it is presented as an effective, somewhat Cronenbergian (the authors cited Videodrome as an influence) way, this is the stuff of great genre output.

Friends? Rivals? Real?

 

Terrific, well-built storyline and subtext aside, for a first feature-length film Daniel Goldhaber has a great visual style which only helps make the film more memorable. I’m definitely looking forward to what he does next. As Alice/Lola, Medeline Brewer is great, which is a good thing as she has to carry the film. I hadn’t realized that I’d previously seen her in Orange is the New Black and, fittingly, in an episode of Black Mirror. So I was already a fan of hers but didn’t recognize her here.

As I wrote this, I got two friend requests on my open Facebook page, from obviously fake profiles (you know the ones: they look like models, you have no idea who they are, have no ‘’friends’’ in common…). This new, evolving reality is incredibly ripe for great stories. This is one of them.  And it’s kinda scary.

 

 

 

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