If everybody in the post digital age were being honest with themselves, they would admit to using online pornography. With an ocean of porn flooding the internet, one popular genre is that of the CAM girl, where men pay a girl on screen to strip, masturbate, and flirt for tokens that can be turned into cash by the onscreen girl or her pimp.

The 2018 horror thriller CAM has arrived on Netflix. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber and written by Isa Mazzei, from a story by Goldhaber, Isabelle Link-Levy and Mazzei, CAM was partially inspired by Mazzei’s personal experience as a CAM girl.

Not to give too much away from a story that stands up to scrutiny, despite its pornographic content, Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer) works on a website called FreeGirlsLive, delivering sexually explicit live shows from a studio she has set up in her home under the name “Lola_Lola.” Alice is frustrated with her rank on the site, hoping to be number 1, a spot currently held by a girl named BabyGirl. Her mother has no idea of what Alice does for work, who has lied and told her that she works in internet development. Her younger brother, Jordan, whilst feeling embarrassed and ashamed of Alice’s CAM work, knows about Alice’s job and has agreed to keep it a secret, but tries to get Alice to tell their mother the truth someday. Lola justifies her job by explaining that she never leads her punters on, and “I never tell them that I love them.”

There is far more to this fascinating film than the exploitation we can all find within minutes online.

In a dynamic, lead performance by Madeline Brewer as Lola, who manages to deliver a thoughtful, honest role which includes almost constant nudity, CAM balances a tense psycho thriller with a feminist investigation into the morality of female online prostitution. The truth of the matter is that beautiful girls are in many ways cursed by their beauty, and if they have no real aptitude for any other kind of work, CAM girls can easily make a living wage from their sexuality. In our Instagram, social media age, selling your beauty is one of the few ways those women cursed with good looks, under almost total pressure from unpleasant, predatory males, can make a more than decent living, even at the cost of their souls.

There is something I find rather solemn and sad about CAM. Female beauty, as long as it is well tended, can be utilized into an open ticket to the riches of the world, but it is also a deeply vulnerable and ambiguous gift. Without giving the ending away, CAM makes no excuses or defences for online prostitution, and as a 2nd wave feminist film, the filmmakers are honest about the realities of pornography, and in its bittersweet conclusion, admit that online escort work is an honest, viable way for beautiful young women to make a living.

There are very few people who can honestly say they have never investigated pornography, and it’s a sad reality of the world that one of the few ways beautiful women can make money is as a CAM girl, without the very real dangers of active escort work. We have no right to judge these girls, but in many ways we still feel pity for them. More than the sum of its soft pornography parts, but in truth this is a clever, sad and honest film.