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Its title proves the most evocative element of Aaron B. Koontz’s horror thriller that fails to live up to its considerable ambitions. Concerning a PTSD-afflicted war photographer who discovers that his antique camera delivers grisly predictions of future murders, Camera Obscura squanders its intriguing premise with a ham-fisted execution. Ultimately lapsing into a series of genre cliches, the film falls apart after a promising start.
The story revolves around Jack (Christopher Denham, Showtime’s Billions), who clearly hasn’t recovered from his harrowing stint embedded as a war photographer in the Middle East. Despite the moral support of his loving fiancee Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), he’s emotionally adrift, unemployed and refusing to pick up a camera after the horrors he’s witnessed.
But Jack becomes intrigued in spite of himself when Claire impulsively buys him an 80-year-old camera. He tentatively begins taking photographs again, only to find that they turn out to be in black and white when developed. Far more disturbingly, they also include images of corpses that were not visible when Jack shot the photos. He eventually comes to the realization that they’re representations of people who are about to die and (are you still with me?) he can substitute the prospective victims with people who better deserve that fate by killing them himself. His deranged mission becomes particularly urgent when Claire begins repeatedly showing up dead in his photos.
Director Koontz and co-screenwriter Cameron Burns have a difficult time maintaining control of their convoluted premise, so they throw in everything but the kitchen sink. That includes a series of horrific sequences that inevitably turn out to be nightmares or fantasies and which quickly become annoying in their overuse. It’s reasonable enough for the film to be purposefully confusing about its central character’s tenuous grasp of reality, but the sheer overkill makes us distrust virtually everything we see.
The film uneasily veers into dark humor in such episodes as a fight sequence between Jack and an ill-fated hardware store owner that goes on longer than the murder scene in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. As the hapless victim keeps reviving himself and fighting back, the elongated proceedings take on the air of a bloody Three Stooges short. Meanwhile, the scenes involving a pair of detectives investigating the serial murders have all the excitement of a Law & Order episode you’ve seen multiple times.
Despite Denham’s impressively committed performance in the central role, Camera Obscura never achieves the proper focus.
Production: Hood River Entertainment, Paper Street Pictures, Chiller Films
Distributor: Chiller Films
Cast: Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva, Catherine Curtin, Chase Williamson, Noah Segan
Director: Aaron B. Koontz
Screenwriters: Aaron B. Koontz, Cameron Burns
Producers: Aaron B. Koontz, Andrew van den Houten, Amir Zbeda
Executive producer: Justin Smith
Director of photography: Chris Heinrich
Production designer: Maxwell Nalevansky
Editor: Zach Passero
Costume designer: John H. Smith
Composer: Steve Moore
Casting: Lisa Marie Dupree, Matthew Lessall
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