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Review: CAMERA OBSCURA (2017) 'psychological horror from Austin filmmaker Aaron B. Koontz'

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Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
June 12, 2017 at 11:44 p.m.



CAMERA OBSCURA (2017)

Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva, Catherine Curtin, Noah Segan, Gretchen Lodge, Andrew Sensenig, Chase Williamson, Jeremy King, Dane Rhodes, David Jensen, Charlie Talbert, Carol Sutton

Directed by Aaron B. Koontz 

The debut feature from Austin filmmaker Aaron B. Koontz takes its cues from Jacob’s Ladder and Final Destination as a war zone photojournalist suffering from PTSD is given an antique camera that predicts future deaths by revealing the victims in its photographs. Christopher Denham (Argo, Shutter Island) plays the photographer who begins to cheat death once his girlfriend (German actress Nadja Bobyleva) begins showing up in the photos.  

It’s been 18 months since Jack Zeller (Denham) covered the war in Afghanistan.  Unable to return to work after witnessing several atrocities during that assignment, he spends most of his time going to therapy.  His realtor girlfriend Claire (Bobyleva) purchases a vintage camera at an auction as a gift to motivate Jack to get back to work.  Although he’s vowed never to touch a camera again she hopes the gift will change his mind and to make it easier to get back into the swing of things she convinces her boss to hire Jack to take photos of various properties. 

After developing the film, which mysteriously comes out black and white, Jack notices images of dead bodies in the photos.  Then a young boy drowns after appearing in a pic of a swimming pool so Jack concludes that the vintage camera can foresee the future, but is the device simply functioning as a crystal ball or is there something more sinister at play?   

The plot reaches a frenzied state once Claire begins to show up in the photos and Jack devises a plan to trick death.  If you’ve seen any of the “Final Destination” films then you know that eventually death will catch up with you but maybe just this once Jack can prove smart enough to fool the grim reaper.   

I like the film’s premise by director and co-writer Aaron B. Koontz who does an admirable job for his debut feature.  Steve Moore’s synth heavy score, much like the “It Follows” soundtrack by Disasterpeace, recalls 70s and 80s horror classics and the acting especially Christopher Denham is solid.  I could have used a little more backstory regarding Jack’s war experience and my curiosity about the vintage camera and its origin was not satisfied, in a big budget horror film that would be an intentional move to leave room for a sequel.   Still, “Camera Obscura” is a promising start for the Austin filmmaker. 

(2 ½ stars) 

Now playing at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (Austin).  Available 6/13 on iTunes and VOD.                               

 

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