Camera Obscura is the debut feature from director-writer Aaron B. Koontz, whose previous career includes several shorts, as well as some producing credits on Sacrament and the fantastic indie horror Starry Eyes.
I’d heard of this film for quite some time and its basic premise intrigued me. As a fan of horror I love many types of films within the genre, though nothing beats a heady dose of psychological horror when done correctly.
The film hovers between reality and psychosis, opting to string the viewer along with the main character, a war photographer Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham) struggling to reintegrate into civilian life again with supportive wife Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) at his side.
The story focuses on Jack’s post-traumatic stress disorder affecting his everyday life. Specifically, we watch his work as a photographer during war infect his mind, haunting even the regular post-war photographs he chooses to take. The trick? Neither the audience nor Jack can be sure if it’s his mind or the camera haunting him.
A horror movie which continually defies expectation, Camera Obscura is effective on all fronts. From an eerie atmosphere Koontz cultivates with cinematography courtesy of Chris Heinrich, to the effective electronic score by Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub). Yet the high point of the film are the performances out of both Denham and Bobyleva, who portray the couple at the centre of the story with such ease.
Luckily, Ms. Bobyleva was available to speak with me, discussing her take on the character she plays, working opposite Denham, and what it was like acting in the horror genre for the first time.
C.H. Newell for Film Inquiry: So great of you to talk with me today, Nadja. I loved Camera Obscura and found it a unique piece of psychological horror. You were fantastic in your role.
Nadja Bobyleva: Thank you so much.
First off, I was curious about what attracted you to play this character when you first read the script? Did something immediately jump out and grab you Claire?
Nadja Bobyleva: Yes, well, I liked how she was presented as very caring and loving towards her husband. I suppose because I see myself in that same way, so it’s a character I can relate to, whose motivations I understand. And the story was exciting, it wasn’t predictable. The whole time it keeps you wondering whether what’s happening is real; if it’s the main character’s psychosis, if the camera is making these things happen. It isn’t a straightforward film, it’s non-linear and doesn’t always go where you expect.
Absolutely agree. One of my favourite parts of the movie is the fact it isn’t always easy to know what’s happening, but in a good way; not confusing. Makes you want to bite your nails. Another aspect I loved – perhaps most – is the chemistry and relationship between you and Christopher Denham. Was it fun working together?
Nadja Bobyleva: Oh, yes! Chris is amazing to work with, he’s a smart actor and a very warm person. And I’m happy to hear you say that, because Chris and I only met the day before the shoot. Then the first day of shooting we worked on scenes taking place in the house, the husband and wife’s life together, so we got to know one another quickly. Chris immediately started improvising and it helped us get into the characters and their relationship much faster than normal.
And this is your first horror film, right?
Nadja Bobyleva: First one.
It’s certainly a great start. How did you feel about it? Was the experience unique compared to other films you’ve worked on?
Nadja Bobyleva: Definitely, but it was lots of fun. I really loved doing the stunt scenes, and the ones where there were injuries, the blood. Affords a much different experience than if you do a comedy or drama, which have their own fun moments. But certainly different, especially with this film because of the psychological horror.
In that same vein, is it different to step into a role involving psychological horror, as opposed to something like comedy or drama? Do you come to a part in a horror movie with a new approach?
Nadja Bobyleva: No, not really. When I read a script I try figuring out the character themselves, not worrying about the story as a whole, just what my character thinks, how she feels. Each character has their own truth. So, I try finding their individual story, whatever it is. Then I work on how to tell it.
You mentioned earlier about improvisation with Chris and how it helped. Did the improv bring out anything new in your conception of your character?
Nadja Bobyleva: I’ve never been too confident about improv, always worried about coming up with something good, and scared I won’t be able to come up with anything. It’s funny, because Chris was so good at improv that I wasn’t hesitant. It made me feel comfortable, then we just got into the relationship between the characters. And it did help. With such little time between meeting one another and shooting, Chris and I were able to flesh out the characters more, to get a hold on them better that way.
It really does show. I’m a horror fan in general, but I especially love films that – even when reality isn’t always certain – stay grounded. The husband-wife relationship between your characters felt very natural, like watching real people.
Nadja Bobyleva: That’s so good to hear. Once we got into the scenes, Chris and I were able to feel more relaxed, and it’s fantastic to know that translated into the movie.
Camera Obscura hits theatres starting June 9th; available June 13th on VOD and Digital HD.