C.A.M. (Contagious Aggressive Mutations)
Dir. Steph Du Melo & Larry Downing (2021)
A rare virus has contaminated meat, leading to a potential world-ending pandemic.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It’s interesting how people talk about found footage films now, as if it wasn’t heavily praised in the early 2000’s with dozens of fantastic movies in the newly-established genre. Everyone acts like it’s been done before, so it all sucks. Well, if “being done before” was our litmus test for whether a movie would be good or not, the entire horror genre would be doomed from the start. There’s nothing new under the sun, after all, and every idea is just a rehash of previously established ideas. You’d have to go back hundreds of years, in some cases, to find the original ideas behind even some of the biggest hits of today; in that regard, it’s hard to dismiss found footage as a genre simply because it was overplayed almost twenty years ago. It’s a subgenre that lends itself well to low-budget films, indie directors, and non-classically-trained actors who are better acting aloof than they are in the standard dramatic style. It is within all of these categories that we find C.A.M., the 2021 film from Steph Du Melo and Larry Downing that was actually filmed way back in 2013.
This may be one of the rare instances where it’s a good thing that a movie doesn’t come out when it initially should have (as far as technical aspects go… more on a different argument later). It’s fair to say that critics were less than kind to found footage films in 2013, though to be fair they’re not a whole lot more forgiving of the genre now. C.A.M. is released at the perfect time, especially due to the subject matter, which revolves around a worldwide pandemic with an experimental cause. Now we’re not going to get political here and talk about the origins of COVID, but it’s fair to say that there’s still a lot up in the air as to where the real-life pandemic came from. It’s not hard to believe, after the last couple of years, that we could have a worldwide pandemic as the result of government malfeasance and contaminated food. Du Melo, who also wrote the film, explores this potential reality by mixing found footage with narrated reel-to-reel tapes investigating what really happened to start this outbreak. It’s perhaps an insensitive time to release the film, but it’s poignant enough that it’s an interesting commentary on current events, despite being filmed almost a decade before.
All digression aside, there are some legitimately creepy scenes within, something that you don’t often find from indie films, and especially not indie found footage films. The approach to the found footage style is a bit ham-handed, and perhaps would’ve worked better if the entire film was done in that style rather than intercut with various title cards and interview scenes. With found footage being as divisive as it is, it’s hard to say that it’s a wise decision to make a film like that now, but personally I enjoy the subgenre and find that it often makes things scarier than they otherwise would be. That’s the case with this film: the movie isn’t particularly scary, and some of the ideas are not fully fleshed out, but it somehow works anyway just because of the choices made by the production. Ironically enough, the found footage style is not where my biggest problem with the film lies.
Look, horror is transgressive as a general rule. There have been countless horror films that heavily criticize societal norms, government entities, and even religious institutions. The great George Romero took aim at government overreach and its treatment of citizens in The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead, though it is the former that most compares to this film. I am not one to ask that art limit itself from criticism, nor am I one to criticize someone’s message regardless of my own personal views. However, as the plot of C.A.M. deals heavily with governmentally-caused pandemics, perhaps now is not the best time to release the film. In this day and age, where thousands upon thousands of people are literally dying because idiots have decided that vaccines are evil plots to decrease population, perhaps it’s best not to make a film that focuses on exactly that plot. It just feels a bit in bad taste at best and disgusting propaganda at worst, regardless of the quality of the film. It’s not an altogether bad film, and you could do a whole lot worse even in the limited subgenre of “indie found footage horror.” Nonetheless, it’s hard for me to stand behind a film with a message that is reprehensible given the circumstances, especially with the number of deaths directly attributable to that exact same message. I’ll give them a bit of a pass for being a British film, despite the fact that they directly implicate the CDC in some of their messaging. Other than that… ehh, this one will probably be much more popular with a segment of the population that I’d rather not associate myself with.
Who this movie is for: Found footage fans, Zombie outbreak movie lovers, Anti-vaxxers
Bottom line: It’s a mediocre film with a plot that would’ve been much more acceptable when it was originally produced back in 2013. The anti-government, anti-science critiques in the film, however, did not age well in a time where that exact sentiment has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Taken by itself, it’s an intriguing film with an interesting plot, fairly well made, and legitimately creepy at times. If you can fully separate those successes from the failure of a message, it’s definitely worth a watch. If you can’t, it’s best to stay away, because God knows we don’t need any more anti-vaxxers out there. You can check out the film on Tubi, and if you’re a fan of indie found footage horror, you just might want to.