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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The moral is: never trust your colleagues. The Belko Experiment – movie review

When your script revolves around 80 employees locked up into their office building waiting to kill or be killed, the final product could either be extremely satisfying or go terribly wrong.

The Belko Experiment is the exception to the rule.

Directed by Greg McLean – who made a name for himself with the excellent Wolf Creek (2005) but also made some stinkers in the recent past – and written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2), this film tells a quite straightforward story.

Belko experiment 2In an office building nearby Bogota (Colombia), 80 employees – from the maintenance to the bosses – are the target of a sadistic game where, in order to survive, they must kill each other, instructed by a mysterious voice which gives them orders and rules to follow.

By far, the best aspect of The Belko Experiment revolves around the employees’ reactions. Each and every one of them gives a different response to the panic, ranging from disbelief to pure shock, to madness, to abandoning every decent human behaviour.

Also, despite the short runtime of only 88 minutes, the film takes its time to introduce the main characters, which are well-rounded within a few sequences: Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and Wendell (John Christopher McGinley) are particularly striking in their respective roles.

belko-experiment.w710.h473.jpgNevertheless, in the cast choices there is also a lot of wasted potential. Michael Rooker, for example, seems to be in the movie purely to make a favour to Gunn – the duo worked together in both the Guardian of the Galaxy films.

Yet, with such a simplistic plot, the show stealer should have been the killings. Rated R and marked as very violent, The Belko Experiment holds back on every scene that might have been too brutal, instead.

On the contrary, when on camera, the practical effects are well-done and effective, although never original or unseen in other flicks before.

belko-experiment-image-john-c-mcginleyHowever, the most disappointing part of the movie is the grand finale. Nonsense, dumb and lazy. I wouldn’t know how to describe it otherwise. The main reason being that who made the movie wanted to set up a sequel, regardless how stupid the ending of the film was.

Overall, though, you can give it a watch, switch your brain off and enjoy a very quick film that has nothing to offer apart from decent entertainment. It could have been way worse, but even far better than it actually is. Instead, The Belko Experiment is a forgettable horror flick that, for sure, doesn’t deserve a sequel. Let’s hope they don’t make one. Cheers!