What happens when you merge the themes of The Omen with the more-than-capable Final Destination franchise? You get the modestly budgeted, but excellently produced Camera Obscura, the latest horror release by Chiller Films. Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham), a former war photographer suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is learning to re-acclimate to domestic life. His bubbly and supportive fiancé Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) – a successful real estate agent – is patient as she works through and with Jack’s anxiety and alcoholism, offering both financial and emotional support.
Claire’s love and empathy for her husband cannot be understated. Bobyleva’s performance is one displaying a cheerful countenance and positive attitude, perfectly complementing Denham’s timid and fragile take on Jack. The tenderness is exemplified during a key scene that marks the plot’s turn to its central conflict: An innocuous vintage camera bought by Claire during an auction. It is this camera that not only restarts Jack’s employment as a photographer (opting to shoot buildings and homes for Claire’s agency instead of the dead or dying in war-torn Iraq) but sets Jack on a mystery from what his film captures: The imminent deaths of strangers.
Jack’s vintage camera is not of the digital age (an even more obscure history to the camera adds another horrific layer, one I will not spoil here). His film shoots require him to actually develop film, a process as anachronistic as faxing a resume. Nevertheless, this fun throwback allows Jack (and us) to delve into the mystery of why dead bodies are appearing in the photographs, and why such foreshadowing matters to Jack, who will soon develop a photograph of his beloved Claire.
The stress of solving this mystery causes Jack to relapse into behaviors often exhibited by PTSD patients. Blackouts and alcoholic binges add to the confusion as Jack no longer becomes the reliable hero (akin to an unreliable narrator of a novel) who we hope can stop these obscure deaths. His madness only leads to more violence in shocking and unexpected ways once Jack understands that the “soon-to-be” dead could be saved by killing others. The fragility and tenderness that Denham characterized in early scenes is replaced by a savage killer, reminding us how the most innocent could become monsters.
Part of that savagery, though brutal, makes for an evocative and entertaining film. Performances by Denham and Bobyleva, as well as Noah Segan (who plays Jack’s friend Walt; many will recognize Segan from the disturbing yet remarkable cult favorite Deadgirl) serve the script well, for their descent into chaos and violence is what truly creates the horror.
Eric Dinsmore | Twitter: @dinsmorality