“All right, let’s do this thing.”
So begins the show. It’s a hell of an opening, with eery, strange visuals—none of which make sense. An old man staring eye-to-eye with a demon, walking down a dark corridor. The arresting imagery gives way to Clara, the granddaughter of this old man, packing up his things after his death. In the process, she discovers his camera, an old thirties relic. Only it isn’t really a camera – it physically can’t make photos, and inside is a strange collection of items.
Then the nightmare comes.
With web series inching upward in running time, and dramas typically wanting to make use of that increasing length of viewer attention, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised at Camera Obscura’s three-minute average length—pilot excepted, which is about seven minutes—but certainly intrigued. It’s clear that this is a show wanting to take its time, and each episode doesn’t do all that much, but rather than adding more time to flesh things out, they opt to keep from wearing out their welcome.
It’s a good strategy. Horror is all about suspense, and they’ve managed to keep that up. In three episodes (well, let’s say four since the pilot is a double-length ep), we’ve learned very little. Clara’s grandfather was into some weird stuff, demons are scary, and they can be killed, or at least defeated, with this old, incredibly weird camera. Got it.
The character moments are pretty sparse – Clara’s mourning for a grandfather she never particularly cared for, Chad’s her maybe/maybe not boyfriend, and the interplay between them feels very lived-in, but the show seems to want to get those moments out of the way as quickly as possible to get to the images that feel ripped from Crispin Glover’s daydreams. The cinematography on this is wonderful with a good sense of the medium they’re in – we don’t have a lot of wide shots.
They want this show to look claustrophobic, and with some shots that are simply just a pair of eyes without it being “look! We’re so close on his face!” they’re succeeding.
I don’t know if they intend to bring in more characters (human, anyway), but I would say that Camera Obscura is doing just fine with two people dealing with some weird freaky things with absolutely no basis in the reality they’re currently occupying. It’s not a deep show, but it eschews gimmicks, keeping the story right on the pace they want, keeping the imagery interesting to look at, and refraining from making this series act like it’s more than it is. They’re here to tell a story, and they’re going to tell it their way.
For people wanting to create a dramatic series, even outside of the horror genre, they would do well to watch this show as how one should go about creating moments. Drew Daywalt, the writer-creator-director, knows how to give the audience what they need without just giving them what they want. Just because you can give us information doesn’t mean you should. I don’t know if he’s a video game aficionado, but it would not surprise me at all if he’s a fan of the Fatal Frame video game series (also called the Camera Obscura), which utilizes a camera to defend against ghosts.
At any rate, Camera Obscura’s taken the slow and steady approach to this story, and so far I’ve only seen the pieces set up for the plot to really get going. Once it does, I think we’re in for a damn good ride.
Win, Fail or Trainwreck: This is a pretty solid Win. Some viewers may not be down with the slower pace or the scary imagery, but if it’s your thing, you’d do well to watch this show.