Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Screenwriter Isa Mazzei is a former camgirl herself and it shows in the film’s focus on the business side of proceedings, but director Daniel Goldhaber extends her work in a much stranger direction."

As Arthur O'Shaunessy once said (though it was probably made more famous by Willy Wonka), “We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.” In a world where menial jobs have been steadily replaced by automation, one of the last fields in which humans have continued to maintain an edge is the creative industries. But what does it mean for humanity as a whole if the dreamer is replaced by the product of a dream?

Lola is a dream; she’s a cam fantasy performed by Alice (Madeline Brewer), who offers much more than mere sexual titillation in shows carefully crafted for an audience she has cultivated over a long period of time. Alice is heavily focused on her craft and has developed a strong set of business skills which she hopes will get her to the top of the charts run by the agency she’s with, increasing her income and strengthening her long term position. But one day Alice discovers that she’s been locked out of her account. Logging in under an assumed name, she sees somebody who looks physically just like she does performing in her place – apparently in her own home. At first she thinks it must be an old recording. Then things really start to get sinister.

Screenwriter Isa Mazzei is a former camgirl herself and it shows in the film’s focus on the business side of proceedings, but director Daniel Goldhaber extends her work in a much stranger direction, piling on layers of visual hyperreality that parallel the narrative developments, forcing viewers to question what can and cannot be relied upon. The club where Lola goes to cam with a friend isn’t the usual decaying flat but a luridly lit wonderland with a neon sign outside, the pretence of work as play carried to an extreme. As the film goes on, colours become more heavily saturated, turning the off-camera landscape into something more closely resembling the digitally enhanced world of the cam website.

For all her showmanship, Alice is a believer in keeping it real. She doesn’t tell her clients she loves them; she doesn’t fake orgasms. But her doppelgänger has no such scruples. There’s that age old tension between the concepts of sex work as the selling of a service and as the selling of oneself. Does the newcomer even have a self beyond what’s seen onscreen? If not, is that a potential advantage? In an early scene, Alice fakes Lola’s suicide for shock value, to get her ratings up. For the newcomer, that’s easier. Does she have any idea what she’s doing?

As Alice gets into increasingly deep water in her attempts to solve the mystery and recover her career, the film explores the crossover between old arguments about sex work and issues around the virtual world with the potential to affect humanity much more widely – and to make us question what humanity means. It's a more genre-appropriate choice for Fantasia 2018 than might immediately be apparent. Like Molly Millions’ mirrored eyes, like the promise of a false Maria, it asks us what we want to see and if, ultimately, reality is capable of competing with dreams. The ending is perhaps a little too neat (albeit also messy) but it feels far from final.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2018
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A sex cam worker finds that her identity has been appropriated by a mysterious doppelgänger.

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Writer: Isa Mazzei

Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Devin Druid, Samantha Robinson, Melora Walters

Year: 2018

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US

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