In Camera Obscura (review), Christopher Denham plays Jack Zeller, a shell-shocked war photographer who is having trouble leaving the past behind. Though he seems to be living the American Dream, shared with his beautiful bride Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), Jack is having crippling, horrible visions. Or are they actually premonitions of unspeakable horrors to come? If they are indeed supernatural, Jack is going to have to take major – and possibly deadly – action to save his loved ones and himself.
Camera Obscura is directed by Aaron B. Koontz, and cowritten by Cameron Burns. The two have partnered up on several shorts, but this is their first feature. Denham is a young but veteran actor, having been in several features, shorts, and TV shows. Denham is also breaking into screenwriting, with a project in development at Blumhouse Pictures. We caught up with Denham to ask him a few questions about working in the horror genre both as an actor and a writer.
Dread Central: Camera Obscura is going for an eerie and suspenseful vibe, and you really have to carry the burden of that since there are lots of scenes of just Jack alone with his terror. Did you like that, or was it intimidating?
Christopher Denham: A lot of the scenes are solitary, by myself. But he’s always trying to get back to Claire, he’s trying to have a normal life. But the horror is escalating. What Aaron and I were trying to do, was ask ‘How would I react in this situation?’ Not how someone in a horror movie would behave, so hopefully that makes Camera Obscura somewhat different. There’s that detail work, which shows the humanity in this guy. Even when he’s doing something bad, hopefully it’s still there.
I was drawn to ambiguity of the character in the script. I thought it was an interesting challenge to play someone on the line of maybe going insane or maybe dealing with something supernatural. The audience doesn’t quite know which it is. I gravitate toward that kind of storytelling myself. I’m interested in how you can mess with someone’s mind. It certainly was an interesting challenge to pull it off. The director, Aaron B. Koontz, knows film so well, that I felt I could really trust him – which is not always the case.
As an actor, I find the stakes are higher in horror. It’s literally life or death. I go back to Macbeth, the first horror play. To me, it’s about trying to find the truth. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re in. You’re trying to find the truth of what the hell is happening. In a movie like this, where the circumstances are a little more extreme, that was the challenge for us. Though I am alone a lot, we had a big fight scene in the middle of the movie, and you know, it had been all choreographed out. It looked really impressive, and really great. But the other actor and I came forward and said, ‘How would this really happen? Let’s remember the truth of this.’ So the fight scene became a little more sloppy with dirty punching and biting, and you know, how it would happen if I was really fighting.
DC: In your opinion, is Camera Obscura a horror movie?
CD: The movie shifts in genres more than you would expect, I think. Hopefully in an unexpected. It hits those notes, but I think more than in a typical psychological thriller or horror, you get to spend time with these characters more just as human beings before anything horrible happens. You’re not just dealing with archetypes, like, ‘Oh, you have the beautiful girl running through the woods, you have crazy-guy.’ It’s like, ‘Who cares?’ I wouldn’t have done a movie about a potentially possessed camera, had it not also been about a man dealing with his own psychological trauma. He’s basically trying to come to grips with PTSD and asking himself what’s real and what’s not. He goes on a procedural mission to solve the mystery.
DC: You mentioned collaborating with Aaron and Cameron, and also we hear you have some projects in development with you solely as a screenwriter. Even one with Blumhouse – that’s great. Are you going more into writing now?
CD: I consider myself an actor first and foremost. I don’t really consider myself a writer. I’m an actor who sometimes puts some words on a page. When I make my movies, it’s an excuse to get my actor friends together, and someone needs to put those words on the page. My blood runs as an actor. Aaron and I collaborated a bit on this, but the script that him and Cameron gave to me initially was really solid. I thought it was an interesting hybrid between a character drama and a psychological thriller.
My work with Jason Blum, it is really about ‘How do I create these really great roles for actors?’ I want to give them a chance to do something. No actor wants to play an archetype. You want something else going on there, and think the audience does too. It’s how you flesh these people out. To me, those movies have to about more than just who’s going to die later. That’s when you’re doing something special.
Camera Obscura stars Christopher Denham (“Billions”), Nadja Bobyleva (Bridge of Spies), Catherine Curtin (“Stranger Things”), Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates), and Noah Segan (The Mind’s Eye). See it via VOD/Digital on June 13th.
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.