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[Review] ‘Camera Obscura’ is Too Ambitious for its Own Good

Camera Obscura, the creepy new psychological horror flick directed and co-written by Aaron B. Koontz, a PTSD-inflicted war photographer named Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham) receives a camera as a gift that shows death before it happens. At first, Jack lets things play out while he contemplates whether or not he can or should try and stop the deaths from happening, but everything changes for him when his loved ones start to show up in the photographs.

At first, the film comes off a little shaky due to the films slim budget. The shots are set up nicely enough, but it has a sort of cheap feel to it that takes a minute to get used to. The first act is also dialog-heavy, and while Denham does a well enough job physically acting out scenes, he’s not so great at line delivery. He speaks with a soft tone that I think is meant to sound caring, but it makes him sound unintentionally creepy. Thankfully, once the plot kicks in in the second act and he’s given more to do in the movie that shakiness steadies itself a little.

Even though Jack is trying his best to prevent deaths from occurring, he realizes very quickly that the only way to keep his loved ones alive is to re-create the photos that show death with surrogate victims. As the plot shifts from showing us the aftermath to letting us see the deaths as they happen, things really pick up. The effects work is almost entirely practical, and the blood has a sticky, goopy texture to it that upped the gross-out factor awesomely. There are a couple scenes, however where blood isn’t involved and they’re so poorly done they’re almost funny. It’s such a tonal shift from the rest of the movie that it almost completely took me out of it.

The biggest surprise to me was how well Koontz and his co-writer Cameron Burns insert comic relief at just the right moments. Like I said earlier, Denham’s line delivery isn’t great when he’s trying to deliver heartfelt lines to his girlfriend, but when he drops a dad joke, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh. Additionally, Noah Segan’s pizza delivery guy, Walt, provides even more levity and he’s the highlight of the film for me.

One character that wasn’t so great to me for me is Jack’s girlfriend, Claire (Nadja Bobyleva). Much like Denham, she does a fine job handling comedic moments and scary ones, but the more heartfelt scenes borderline made me cringe at points. It’s fine at the beginning when it’s still mostly humor she’s delivering, but as the film goes on and things get scarier, her character starts to suffer, especially when she starts accusing her husband of changing even though Denham isn’t really acting any differently in front of her. It’s a bit of a plot hole.

A huge highlight is the soundtrack. Synth composer Steve Moore does an expert job at creating tension in some of the more grisly scenes and while it can be a little heavy-handed at times, it’s yet another great aspect of the film that elevates it above its budget related shortcomings.

Despite its flaws Camera Obscura was a surprisingly fun thrill ride. While most of the acting leaves a bit to be desired, the decent screenplay, genuinely funny comic relief, and incredible soundtrack combine to make a psychological thriller that I think is worth a rental on VOD services. If you’re looking for something to see in theaters, though you’d be better off checking out the excellent It Comes at Night. You can see Camera Obscura in theaters today (June 9) and it’ll hit VOD services on June 13. My video review of the film is below.



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