I guess some people might argue that the 2002 film, One Hour Photo, isn’t really a horror film.
It’s an argument that I can understand. The film does have its scary moments, like the scene where Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) dreams that his eyes are exploding. But there aren’t any ghosts or vampires or hockey mask-wearing slashers to be found in One Hour Photo. Even the film’s most disturbing moment — in which we see that Sy’s apartment is nearly empty except for a giant collage of pictures that cover his living room wall — is more depressing than scary.
It’s really a very sad movie. In fact, it’s probably even more sad today than when it was originally released. Now, when you see Robin Williams’s sad eyes and you hear him talking about how reality can never live up to a photograph, it’s impossible not to think about the actor’s 2014 suicide. I remember that, when One Hour Photo and Insomnia came out in the same year, there was a lot of talk about how unexpected it was to see Robin Williams playing such dark characters. Now, of course, that darkness is a key part of Robin Williams’s persona.
In hindsight, it’s also sad because one watches the film with the knowledge that, even if Sy hadn’t lost it at the end of One Hour Photo, he still probably be a lost soul in 2019. When we first meet Sy, he’s working at the one-hour photo lab in SavMart. He talks about how much he loves developing pictures. When someone mentions that they’ve been thinking about getting a digital camera, Sy nervously chuckles and says, “Don’t do that, you’ll put us out of business.” Of course, in 2019, people take pictures with their phones and even digital cameras are viewed as being something of a relic. If Sy were around and free today, I doubt he’d have a job. If he did have a job, it’s doubtful it would be one that would allow him to cover his wall with someone else’s photos. Instead, in 2019, I imagine Sy would be one of those people following strangers on social media and printing out all their pictures and probably sending them unsolicited DMs and private messages.
Sy is obsessed with the Yorkin family, Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen), and their son, Jake (Dylan Smith). Even though the family barely knows who Sy is, he knows them because Sy has spent years developing (and stealing) their photos. Sy views them as being the perfect family. They’re the family that he wants to be a part of. “Sometimes I think of myself as being Uncle Sy,” he says at one point. But then Maya Burson (Erin Daniels) brings in her photos to be developed and Sy learns that the reality of the Yorkins is not as perfect as the photographs. And Sy loses it.
Actually, there’s quite a few reasons why Sy loses it and the film suggests that, if the Yorkins had never stepped into SavMart, Sy would have found another family on which to obsess. Something is missing inside of Sy. Incapable of dealing with reality, Sy instead deals with posed pictures of happy times. Towards the end of the film, there’s a throw-away line that attempts to offer some sort of insight into why Sy is such a lost soul. Personally, I think the film works better without an explanation. Why is less important than the fact that Sy exists.
In the end, One Hour Photo qualifies as a horror film not because of any paranormal danger but because it’s a film about the horror of everyday life. You never know who might be watching you. That friendly clerk who waits on you at the grocery store might be following you home and imagining that he’s a part of your life. You never know. One Hour Photo is the film that suggests that, lurking behind every friendly smile, there’s a blank Sy Parrish. It’s a scary thought.