Final Destination meets Jacob’s Ladder. Camera Obscura – movie review

A war photographer affected by severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) picks up the camera again after more than one year of inactivity due to the terrible things he’s seen and photographed in war zones (presumably Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria).

Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham), the titular character of Camera Obscura, is given an old camera from his fiancé Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), who desperately wants him back on track.

camera Obscura 1.jpgHowever, the photos Jack takes are black-and-white – despite the rolls being coloured – and, mostly, show dead bodies that lay in the locations he shot.

What started off quite premising, with a first half hour that features non-linear storyline and good character development obtained without exposition scenes, soon enough turns into a bloody mess that doesn’t know what’s aiming for.

Although rather original, Camera Obscura tries too hard to resemble the Final Destination movies and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) in its themes and development.

Unfortunately for the director Aaron B. Koontz, the film falls short in its attempts: the campiness of Final Destination is replaced by an unnecessary seriousness, whereas the social commentary on the horrors of war are completely avoided. What a missed opportunity!

The overall movie is quite confusing.

Camera Obscura 3More or less 40 minutes into Camera Obscura, the main character is convinced he has to do something extreme to protect his fiancé from an impending doom. The decision to include this sudden change of tone in the script, makes Jack less compelling (he was rather relatable up to this point) and the plot take a convoluting route involving paranormal elements.

Yet, an initially psychological thriller/horror begins to include supernatural features and a good dose of laughable gore that adds up to the general confusion.

The ending, which I’m not going to give away, is probably the pinnacle of frustration in Camera Obscura, since it doesn’t resolve any question or sub-plot brought up throughout the runtime.

Camera Obscura 2.jpgAgain, the characters are overall formulaic: we have the main character (fairly portrayed by Denham), his screaming and confused fiancé, a police officer who knew everything before the audience, another one who couldn’t figure out the simplest clues and the junkie, silly protagonist’s best friend who is helpful like a toothbrush on a desert island.

Especially Walt, Jack’s best friend, is highly disappointing. He represents my biggest disappointment with the direction: Walt is, in fact, portrayed by Noah Segan, a more than decent actor who proved himself in the past to be able to pull off complex roles.

Seemingly, Koontz has no idea what to do with him, since he randomly throws Segan in many scenes without developing the character’s arc or purpose.

Nevertheless, this is the only mistake made by Koontz. Besides that, his direction is really good for an indie horror. The cinematography is impressive and the editing cleverly resembles a sequence of photos projected on a wall.

Entirely shot on location (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA), Camera Obscura makes good use of the environment, whilst the bright colours are toned down to make the atmosphere gloomy and sumber.

On a side note, Koontz’s direction avoids silly jump-scares and futile loud music to mark a moment of tension. Instead, the soundtrack is persistently earing and purposely irksome.

Since the direction is, overall, pretty decent, I’d say that the script is what scales down the film. It simply doesn’t make any sense and hides the redeeming qualities of Camera Obscura.

If you ask me, Camera Obscura is not a completely shipwreck, but the script for it is plain awful nonetheless.

Quoting directly from the movie: “this seems one of those weird episodes of Goosebumps!”. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend to watch it, but neither I’d say it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Cheers!

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One of the better horror anthologies in recent times. The Dark Tapes – movie review

The Dark Tapes is a horror anthology split in three chapters, each one of them bond to the other by a fourth story that intercuts between them, also establishing an overall frame.

First time feature filmmakers Michael McQuown and Vincent J. Guastini directed and co-produced the flick – a genre-defying, found-footage combination of supernatural elements, Sci-Fi and thriller.

You can imagine my reaction when I sat down to watch a found-footage anthology, since I’m not the biggest fan of anthologies nor of found-footage.

Nevertheless, The Dark Tapes highly surprised me, being one of the genuinely scariest movies I’ve seen in 2017. If not the scariest.

Above all, I wasn’t frightened by jump-scares – which are almost non-existent in the film. Instead, I was sincerely creeped out by the dreadful colours, the dark and threatening atmosphere and the amazing sounds’ design. Yet, the performances, provided by a cast of unknown actors, range from a decent to a very convincing level, the pinacols being the first and the third chapters.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart10The first story (The Hunters and The Hunted), the first tape if you will, is the one I’ve been more impressed by. It tells the story of a young couple that moves to a new house which might eventually turn out to be haunted. Very reminiscent of Paranormal Activity (which is one of the reasons why I strongly dislike found-footage films), this segment concentrates all the tension within the short runtime of 25 minutes, demonstrating that a short film is where this kind of plots belongs. Despite an excellent build-up, the aspect I loved about it the most is the twist, a very clever one, which spoofs and enriches at the same time the whole paranormal activity horror sub-genre.

Dark TapesCam Girls instead tells the story of two lesbian lovers, that make a living performing sexual activities online (for paying customers). Their online chats are filled with terrifying glitches that hint – in a quite evident way – to something dark and devilish. Although the overall atmosphere and the lack of music make for an unnerving experience, the mediocre acting and the obvious ending scale this segment down, making it the less powerful in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

118147Amanda’s Revenge is the following tale that revolves around a young student drugged and raped in a party who, then, becomes obsessed with stopping persistent unwanted paranormal intruders. Enriched by strong symbolism and carried along by a resourceful female character, this story about alien abductions benefitted from good cast choices, believable turns of events and dreadful look and feel. The ‘ending-ending’ is quite cliché and meaningless, but it doesn’t ruin the segment either.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart32The frame which interlinks these three stories together is represented by To Catch a Demon, where we follow three paranormal investigators that take their investigations into an uncharted new dangerous territory. Not particularly original nor unseen before, this tape is still able to scare me shitless, due to its highly earie score, slumber and threatening tone and, above all, terrifying creature realised entirely with practical effects.

Overall, I found The Dark Tapes surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining. On IMDb I came across this comment which sums up my opinion on the movie: “For an indie film made on just a $65,000 budget though, I think [the result] is mostly impressive”. I also believe this flick shows the talent of McQuown who wrote the script, directed two segments, served as film’s editor and cinematographer all by himself.

Strongly recommended guys, don’t let this film fly under your radars. Cheers!

The Autopsy of Jane Doe – movie review

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2016 and came out in the United States on December 21, 2016. Here in Europe, this straight-up horror hasn’t been released yet, but I’ve been able to watch it anyway. No, I can’t give away my sources, sorry.

Directed by André Øvredal, the Norwegian talent behind Trollhunters (2010) and starring Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox, The Autopsy of Jane Doe seem to have triggered many European horror fans, who can’t wait for this movie to come out in their local theatres. And I’m so very happy to give you an intel on it in advance, which is also the reason why I’m going to avoid any single and tiniest spoiler.

Olwen-Catherine-Kelly-nude-bush-and-boobs-The-Autopsy-of-Jane-Doe-2016-HD-1080p-WebDl-7Let’s dive in, then. After a family is brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances in a typical American house, police comes over to investigate and an unidentified corpse of a woman is found half-buried in the basement. The dead body is transported to the crematorium of coroners Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) for them to figure out the COD (cause of death) by the morning after. Simple as that.

As a set-up, I actually didn’t mind it at all. Not every single flick has to be complex and convoluted to be enjoyable. Just look at The Shining!

Furthermore, The Autopsy of Jane Doe benefits from a well-crafted, dreadfully claustrophobic location, which consists of the creepy hallways of the crematorium and its narrow, dark rooms.

autopsy-of-jane-doeYet, Brian Cox’s performance was quite convincing and he was provided with enough backstory for the audience to care for him.

Unfortunately, the pros of this movie end here. For the most part, there’s nothing memorable about this film which, despite not relying too much on jump-scares (thumbs up), falls into all the expected clichés of the genre. Indeed, the only two or three jump-scares featured in this flick are fake ones, which personally I find very distractive, if not even frustrating.

Moreover, unlike Mr. Cox, Hirsch performance is formulaic and dull, which is a shame considering what the guy has been able to achieve through his performance in Into the Wild (one of my favourite movies of all time).

Here, though, his presence doesn’t serve any purpose other than representing the believer-type-of-character, whereas his dad Brian is the sceptical one.

Nonetheless, what makes me feel very indifferent towards The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the absence of guts (metaphorically speaking). This movie doesn’t take the risk and so falls shorts from every point of view: every horror cliché is basically copy-pasted from other flicks to this one. Also, despite running for only 86 minutes, The Autopsy of Jane Doe gets boring at times and drags more than I would have liked it to do.

All in all, I didn’t expect much from this movie, although the synopsis and the idea at its core started to grow on me during the first 20-30 minutes of the movie. Unfortunately, what followed was quite bland, unoriginal and disappointing, which is a shame. Cheers!