With the high concept premise of a cursed camera, very few special effects, some neat in-camera scares and a solid idea, “Camera Obscura” has everything going for it.
Unfortunately, unlike Michael Bay, who can fall back on distracting pyrotechnics and visual effects when the acting is bad, the script dodgy and the story nonsensical (as we saw with his most recent effort “Transformers: The Last Knight”), when you make a low-fi horror thriller that doesn’t need a lot of effects or money and the acting and script have to do all the heavy lifting, they need to be a good deal better than they are here.
The story deals with former war photographer Jack (Christopher Denham) suffering from PTSD because of all the horrors he’s witnessed. Nobody wants him to come back to the world more than his cute and devoted wife Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), so she buys him an antique camera as a gift to encourage him to go out and take pictures again – even if it’s dull real estate shots for a client at her workplace.
Though skeptical, Jack finds himself feeling better taking pictures of the building sites and locations around town. It’s when he gets home with the developed pictures that the fear starts, each photo showing a gruseome death even though there were no such horrors when he took it.
Deciding in grand hero/idiot movie style to keep it to himself in case it’s his stressed mind cracking up, Jack tries to go about his life, but when the deaths he’s got in his photos start happening exactly as depicted, things take a turn – especially when one of them shows Claire.
Through a chance turn of events, Jack figures out he can change the accident or murder to cause someone else to die in Claire’s place, figuring he only has to make that happen for each picture in sequence and he’ll save her. But in a classic tale of becoming what you fear most, Jack starts out horrified at having witnessed someone die the way Claire is supposed to and ends up doing the unthinkable to make sure other people take the place of her destiny.
While “Camera Obscura” is a good idea, it’s all a bit muddled in the execution. The reason for the whole premise (of Jack replacing Claire with other victims to save her) is only apparent because he tells someone – nothing in the story makes it clear that’s what’s been going on.
Fortunately there’s some very well thought up horror movie visuals despite the story they prop up being a bit slight. There’s an effective motif showing Jack’s piint of view – at one point he’s sitting with Claire in a fancy restaurant, looking around in fearful paranoia and then her being covered in blood and injuries when he looks back at her, sweetly asking what’s wrong. There are several scenes of him being somewhere and then instantly transported somewhere else as if he’s sleepwalked there over the course of hours. A standout sequence is the love scene, with Claire on top of him enveloped in pleasure yet oblivious to the cascade of blood covering them both.
There’s also a nifty ittle soundtrack seemingly inspired by John Carpenter’s movies that combines with the effective horror imagery to give “Camera Obscura” some personality – it’s just a bit let down by a fairly bland leading man and a sometimes-clunky script.