War Photographer Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham) is suffering from PTSD. He made it home from combat zones safely but his mind refuses to give him peace. What he’s seen as him vowing to never pick up a camera again. He’s going to therapy and seems to be making slow steps to dealing with his demons but his wife Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) thinks it’s time to pick up the camera and take back his life. She buys him a vintage camera in the hopes of rekindling his love of photography and taking pictures. Only there’s something… odd about the photos he takes with this camera.
Now, this may be the black girl in me, but here’s the point at which I’m wondering – out loud – why in the world you buy a old camera without finding out where it comes from and who owned it. I’m not about bring the supernatural crazy home with me; I’ve seen too many Asian horror movies to fall for the “it’s just a harmless old camera” line. Yes, I am aware of how that sounds when said outside my head. I’m from the South, we don’t play around with evil horcruxes in any form.
That being said, the film does an excellent job of winding up your sense of expectation with its deliberate unraveling of Jack’s state of mind and accompanying struggle to understand the circle of death he’s seems sucked into. Camera Obscura is director Aaron B. Koontz debut feature film and this horror/thriller makes the most of the script written by Cameron Burns. The film draws you into Jack’s life and has you questioning whether everything you’re seeing is happening in the real world. The tension is palatable and real. His struggles dial in to some very real issues faced by survivors of trauma and violence. His perspective is skewed and his decisions increasingly horrific. The very unreliable nature of Jack as our narrator adds deliciously to the horror and unstable nature of the story.
Camera Obscura also includes solid performances from Catherine Curtin (Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black), Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates) and Noah Segan (The Mind’s Eye, Tales of Halloween). But it’s not a perfect effort by any means, the second half ups the horror/violence elements – which I will never consider to be a bad thing – but it loses its hold on the suspense and larger psychological themes and elements of the story. There are missed opportunities that would’ve aided the film in carrying the well crafted tension and depth built in the first half all the way through – as a result a bit of story cohesiveness is lost. But overall, the strong acting from its cast (particularly its leads), compelling visual storytelling, and a decidedly connected score still kept me engaged to the end.
Chiller Films released Camera Obscura to theaters on June 9th and as of June 13th, you can find it VOD and Digital HD for your at home viewing pleasure.
Speaking of the Score…
I had the opportunity to have a brief chat with composure Steven Moore co-founder of synth group Zombi, composer of scores for: The Guest, The Mind’s Eye and Don’t Knock Twice – and unwitting creator of many tracks on my “murder/death/kill” writing playlist on Soundcloud – about his musical contribution to Camera Obscura.
How did you get involved with creating the score to Camera Obscura?
Moore: Aaron, the director, was a fan of my score for The Guest and was a fan of Zombi as well. I think when saw he I was doing scores he was excited. He emailed me and the timing worked out, he sent sent me the script. I really enjoyed it; I was really interested to see how he would do it.
I’m assuming you worked with the film when you plotting out the score itself. I listened to the entire score before I watched the movie and then listened to it afterwards again and it feels like different film without the sound. When you were watching and plotting it out what motivated you to take the direction with the sound?
Moore: Aaron and I had a lot of discussion before we got started. He had a specific tone he wanted to build for the sound of this film…sort of a scratchy and slightly distorted vibe. We hashed out the sound palette that we’d use for the film. Once we established the parameters there, I wanted to make sure the score matched in dynamics and in the arc of the storyline; with the slow development, slow burn of the film.
In that aspect, I also wanted the soundtrack to play like an album. A good album should have a continuation to it where each song runs into the next; [it should have] a low point and a high point. I like to approach these films with that in mind for the overall score.
I liked the vibe music. I kept turning it on and off during the film and it really adds needed layers and elements. The sound ultimately feels like a character itself.
Moore: That was the goal. So I’m glad it worked [laughter]. I like to look at it as a second narrative that’s feeding you information that may fit with what you’re seeing or is playing to the subtext of what’s happening.
What fuels your interest in doing movie scores, particularly psychological/horror genre films?
Moore: Pretty much something i’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to make music for film since I was a young kid. With Zombi, it was a very soundtrack oriented band. I wanted to be able to make connections through Zombi to be able to make soundtracks. I find that it can be very therapeutic as well.
There’s some very intense scenes, creating the music, as you would imagine, you can get all your bad energy out.
That’s why I thought it was interesting when I went back and looked at the playlists that I write to I realized, oh, he’s on my “I’m in a weird, twisted mood” list and my “murder/death/kill” list…
Moore: I’m glad I could be there for you in those moments [laughter]…
I don’t know if my neighbors appreciated since I write at 3 in the morning to music…
but as a listener, and as someone who watches films, I know what I get out of it when the music hits the moment. When you go back and watch with the music does it give you a different feeling than when you’re plotting and being analytical about it. How does hearing your music in the film make you feel?
Moore: I tend to be too critical of my work to be able to enjoy it. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the point where I’ll watch and not go “I would’ve done this differently.” Mostly I don’t revisit it. I’m almost afraid to hear it again because I’ll feel like “I missed a beat on that one.”
What’s the process that you use to create the score once you’ve got the direction from the script and the director. Are you on set, do you work from dailies, do you wait from the finished project?
Moore: We’d planned on me being on set for a few days to get some ideas – I did the for The Guest and Aaron wanted to capture that same feeling – but unfortunately I wasn’t able to. So I had him send me stills, dailies, and working cut, it was all pulling from that and the script.
What’s your favorite track or moment from this score? The tracks ‘Get Some Sleep” and “Honeymoon Killer” just popped back in my head randomly so I was wondering if any song or moment lingered in your head after you put it together. It all flowed beautifully in the film but I was just wondering if anything stuck with you like that since you created it.
Moore: I really like the whole first act. How we were able to build the themes and introduce the it in different forms. I think the whole thing flows. I don’t think I could nail it down to one part or one particular track.
It all happened so fast that wasn’t able to linger on any specific scene more than a day or two because of the pacing and the deadline we had – it worked out nicely because we were able burning through and getting these ideas out and then going back and hearing it again can be exciting because you realize “I really did get that beat right.”
Do you have any other projects coming up after this one that you’re excited about or can discuss [I was totally just being nosy at this point]?
Moore: It’s making the rounds on the festival circuit now, Mayhem directed by Joe Lynch playing festivals now – it’s a very fun movie and I recommend checking it out. We got to do some different things and branch out.
Give his closing track, The End, from the score a listen:
The score to Camera Obscura more than aids in creating the feeling of a man coming unhinged and watching his reality crack and his world unravel around him. It creates an atmosphere that ebbs and flows with the direction of the movie and more than does its part in holding the story together. I sure more than a few tracks will find their way onto my playlist.
Hood River Entertainment & Paper Street Pictures released the entire Camera Obscura soundtrack (with additional tracks by Art Decade and Ben Talmi) digitally for purchase on June 9th.
A veteran war photographer with PTSD sees imminent deaths in his developed photos, questioning his already fragile sanity and putting the lives of those he loves in danger.
CAST: Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva, Catherine Curtin, Chase Williamson, Noah Segan
DIRECTED BY: Aaron B. Koontz
WRITTEN BY: Aaron B. Koontz, Cameron Burns
CAMERA OBSCURA – Chiller Films
IN THEATERS: June 9, 2017
AVAILABLE ON VOD AND DIGITAL HD: June 13, 2017