Film Review: Camera Obscura

Death follows a traumatized war photographer home from Afghanistan in this tricky thriller that loses momentum early on.
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Photographer Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham) spent six months embedded as a combat photographer and he's still suffering PTSD and is unemployed. He's in therapy and his fiancée, real-estate broker Claire (Nadia Bobyleva), is gently supportive. But Jack—who's only ever been good at one thing—doesn't ever want to pick up a camera again. So Claire decides to help him get back up on the horse and buys him a vintage camera.

Jack gamely shoots a few rolls and when he picks up his film he gets a shock: The images are all black-and-white and there are dead bodies in them—bodies he would have seen if they'd been there when he took the shot. Hoping against hope that there's just something wrong with the camera, he takes it to be checked out. After a look at the innards, he can't believe it's even possible to take a photo with it. Jack realizes that the photos show how people—one of whom is Claire—are going to die. Is he "living in a bad episode of Goosebumps" or having a full-on mental breakdown?

Camera Obscura's premise is pure “Twilight Zone,” the problem being that “Twilight Zone” premises were generally good for 30-minute episodes; even stretching them to an hour was, well, a stretch. Jack's decision to try to save Claire by any means necessary drives the film's horror-movie component, but it also aims to supply a compelling psychological subtext in the Jacob's Ladder vein and that's where it goes astray.

It's clear early on that Jack's perspective is untrustworthy, but the execution is so grimly mechanical—particularly the police procedural scenes occasioned by the fact that he keeps turning up suspiciously close to scenes of bloody violence—that it's hard to maintain interest in the question of what Jack is actually seeing/doing and what's all in his head.

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