CAMERA OBSCURA (2017) Reviews and overview


‘Take a picture. Take a life.’

Camera Obscura is a 2017 American horror thriller film produced and directed by Aaron B. Koontz (Scare Package; director of shorts The El Chupugcabra; Malevolence) from a screenplay co-written with Cameron Burns. The film is a feature length version of Koontz’s 2015 short film Aperture. It stars Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva and Catherine Curtin.


Today is Jack (Christopher Denham)’s birthday. A former war photographer with ghosts of his own, his girlfriend Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) gifts him with an 80-year-old camera. He spends the next day wandering around town taking photos until he racks up ten rolls of film.

After he picks up the developed pictures, he is surprised to see a dead body in each of the rolls, bodies that were not there when he took the pictures. Jack comes to the terrible realization that these are not pictures of the past, or of some spectral spirit, but prophecies of future events.

He does everything in his power to stop the seemingly inevitable when his girlfriend appears in one of the photos. Is there a way to prevent her predicted demise?

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“ …Camera is definitely a cut above in genre terms, with room for some nicely drawn character writing and acting, particularly in the support figures […] There’s a confident rigor to the assembly, most notably in the widescreen lensing by Chris Heinrich. Steve Moore’s effective score follows current fashion by tipping a hat at times to 1970s and ’80s horror soundtrack flavors…” Variety

” …feels like a mash-up of Shutter (the original, not the remake) and Final Destination, with a bit of a slasher twist thrown in for good measure. Koontz deftly maneuvers through familiar genre tropes to create an unexpected horror treat, anchored by a strong performance from Christopher Denham (Shutter Island, The Bay).” Daily Dead

“Though it’s not very scary, the film mines suspense from Jack’s attempts at luring his victims and hiding his tracks […] A hardware store clerk turns out to be improbably resilient, bouncing back from a ridiculous, escalating sequence of violent blows and stabs, a blackly funny scene that briefly transcends the film’s plodding pace and dumb characters.” The Village Voice

“While I’ll admit I found the dialogue weak and felt the script was not quite tight enough to sustain a 95-minute runtime (the story sags here and there), I will say the acting was good and so was the cinematography and score. The music is by Steve Moore (The Guest), and the DP is Chris Heinrich (he’s worked on some big films and shot several shorts) – their work complements each other nicely.” Dread Central

“Director/writer Aaron B. Koontz and his co-writer Cameron Burns don’t seem to be interested in developing shy war photographer Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham) beyond a point; the movie’s psychologically realistic foundation quickly collapses, giving way to a banal stalk-and-slay horror narrative.”

” …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 Hollywood Reporter

“Despite his blackouts and hallucinations, Jack might also just own a demonic SLR, as suggested by his ability to predict unpredictable deaths and alter the content of photographic prints, which means he’s merely learning a labored lesson in not acquiring antique machines with convoluted backstories (involving Nazis and a serial killer). Camera Obscura doesn’t really make you care either way.” Slant 

” …similarities to earlier movies abound, including a killer on grainy old videotape (à la V/H/S/2); spectral photographic phenomena (shades of Shutter); a soupçon of torture p*rn (as in the Saw and Hostel movies); dashes of morbid humor; and that hardy perennial the kitchen knife (but a special Tanaka knife). A flashback to Jack’s battle trauma adds a modicum of social commentary.” The New York Times

“The movie zags when you expect it to zig, leading to a satisfyingly haunting conclusion that somewhat upends everything which came before. Is it perfect? Far from it. The PTSD threads could’ve been mined for a bit more subtext, and some of the murder set pieces stretch plausibility.” Birth. Movies. Death

“Camera Obscura has a simple gimmick at its core that gets obscured minute by minute with tonal inconsistencies, overly dense plot turns, and a highly unlikable lead character. We should feel for him and his plight, but we absolutely don’t. Koontz remains a talent to watch as the film itself looks and moves well, but hopefully he’ll start with a stronger script next time.” Film School Rejects

Main cast:

  • Christopher Denham – The Bay; Camp Hell; Shutter Island
  • Nadja Bobyleva
  • Catherine Curtin – Ghoul
  • Chase Williamson
  • Noah Segan
  • Andrew Sensenig – Ayla; We Are Still Here; Don’t Look in the Basement 2
  • Gretchen Lodge
  • Jeremy King
  • Dane Rhodes
  • David Jensen
  • Charlie Talbert
  • Carol Sutton
  • Lance E. Nichols
  • Hawn Tran
  • Cassandra Hierholzer

Filming locations:

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Related: Captured | Polaroid

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