DIRECTOR: Aaron B. Koontz
Aaron B. Koontz
Jack Zeller is a veteran war photographer who is still suffering from PTSD. When he is gifted an old camera, by his wife. She has purchased it for him in hopes that he'll take up photography again. When he starts shooting photos again, he soon discovers that the images show the imminent death of the person in the photo. It's when his wife's death is shown in a picture; Jack goes on a murder spree in hopes that killing those who were also in the photos prolong and prevent his wife's death.
Camera Obscura has the benefit of having a very enjoyable premise. Has it been done before? Sure it has. It has even been done on more than one occasion. We have films such as Shutter, Polaroid, and Click. There is also a Goosebumps book aptly titled Say Cheese and Die! that uses the very narrative of an old camera that can see how folks will die. This isn't exactly an original or new concept, but I am somebody that enjoys the art of photography, so a killer camera always sparks my horror interest.
As I was watching Camera Obscura, my partner leaned over and whispered in my ear that the movie was ultimately Final Destination with a camera. I can see why he had come to that conclusion as the film is about premonition and death. It's also about a guy who tries to race against to clock to prevent those he loves from falling victim to death's design. Only, this movie throws a spanner in the works halfway through and delivers a nasty and mean-spirited little film.
Being mean-spirited and nasty isn't exactly a compliment here. While I love a movie that is cold and bleak from time to time. I thought where this film decides to go just felt pretty cruel. I see why the writer and director took the story in this direction but when you make your protagonist start killing innocent victims. You begin to alienate your core audience. I began to feel that I didn't care for this character or his cause by the time the film had wrapped up.
To have your central character start as a veteran war photographer, a man who is now suffering from PTSD, and to turn him slowly insane with an evil camera. I thought the story really lacked a chance to delve deeper into his past. An opportunity to highlight the effects of PTSD. While we get shots of blood-soaked children of war and witness him start to lose his grip on reality, we never get the exposition of his past. I thought it was a missed opportunity. It may have given a little weight to the character once he turned into a killer.
We also get the minimal backstory on the killer camera. I would have loved to see the plot dive deeper into the history of the camera. We get a few exposition scenes on the camera which is all done through dialogue. I think with a bigger budget and an extra couple of minutes showing us the devastation this camera has caused throughout its history would have made things a little more sinister. The camera should be its own character as it's the thing that drives our protagonist insane. It feels underdeveloped.
The acting is hit and miss for me, and I think it falls back on the uneven tone and at times cheesy dialogue. I think the leading actor, Christopher Denham is okay in the role. His slow descent into madness is the best performance in the film. Noah Segan who is a regular in the genre is great in his supporting turn. Sadly, the performance by Nadia Bobyleva who plays his wife is all over the place. We are meant to care for her character, but their minimal chemistry sadly shows throughout the film.
When it comes to delivering the red stuff, the movie doesn't disappoint. The film has some pretty inventive kills. Several innocent people are brutally murdered, and it is effective. A scene that involves a weight bench is the highlight of the movie. We also have a sad scene where a prostitute is killed, and her body is propped up to look like a murder in an empty rental property. I found this incredibly sad. You hear stories of serial killers murdering these women while trying to make a living and I thought it was a pretty emotionally heavy scene even if it's played for laughs.
Lastly, we come to the tonal shifts in Camera Obscura. The movie feels very uneven. Early on the film plays a lot of the first act completely straight. As the movie goes on, things become more comedic. We have a bizarre and prolonged fight scene in a huge empty rental property. Fight choreography and all is added, and it just comes off as utterly strange. A lot of the dialogue has jokes and comedy injected into it which just throws off the dark themes of PTSD and darker serial killer elements. It feels like it wanted to be two different films.
DEATH TOLL: 13
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A photo of a boy with a broken neck is shown.
- A construction worker falls to his death.
- A little boy is seen bleeding and foaming at the mouth.
- A homeless man is shot in the throat and falls to his death.
- We see a man pulls his teeth out.
- A prostitute is killed in a bathtub, and her head is almost completely decapitated.
- A woman is shot in the head.
- A woman is found dead in a convenience store.
- A man is kicked off a balcony and impaled with a piece of wood.
- A man is stabbed in the stomach.
- We witness a female real estate agent being strangled to death.
- A little boy who is covered in blood peels off someone's flesh.
- An elderly woman is killed in a house fire.
- A photo of a little boy who has drowned in a pool is shown.
- The skeletal remains of a child are found in a drawer.
- A woman commits suicide by shooting herself in the head.
- A woman is seen with blood squirting out of her neck.
- A man is hit by a car, tied to a weight bench and repeatedly stabbed.
- A man's head is bashed in with a weight.
- A couple is seen having sex while covered in blood.
- A man is hit in the head with a vase and a hammer.
Camera Obscura is an odd one. There is a great idea in here, somewhere. While not entirely original regarding premise, the movie could have been a lot better. The film deals with some heavy themes of PTSD but doesn't really utilise them. Some decent gore and bloodshed with a solid central performance can't save it from suffering from an uneven tone, a mean-spirited second and third act, some hit and miss acting and cheesy dialogue. Camera Obscura feels like a missed opportunity.