Insert requisite opening paragraph bemoaning the never-ending onslaught of bland, repetitive, amateurish films released under the ubiquitous guise of “found footage horror,” discuss how they make the same mistakes again and again and reduce the experience to little more than 80 minutes of frustration and boredom, and question how many, if any, of these films are in this format for any reason other than budgetary. Be sure to mention recent bright spots like The Den and Lucky Bastard though as a lead-in for the surprisingly fun, creative, and affecting film Afflicted.
Derek Lee and Clif Prowse are best friends, have been for years, and have the video evidence to prove it. Clif is an amateur documentarian who dabbled in martial arts films to take advantage of Derek’s ethnicity, but his latest project is one close to both of their hearts. The duo is taking a year long trip around the world, and they’re going to film the entire thing. They’ll actually be uploading footage to the web as the trip progresses so their family and friends can enjoy and comment. The trip is for fun, something both men have wanted to do for a long time, but it’s also something they feel they have to do. Derek was recently diagnosed with an AVM in his brain that could rupture at any moment.
Just seven days into the trip though Derek is bitten by a randy bar chick in Paris, and suddenly the thought of dying from an aneurysm takes a backseat to marveling at his new-found strength and struggling with his sudden thirst for human blood.
Clif’s reaction to the initial bite is one of concern, but Derek convinces him that to go to the hospital now could mean the end of the trip. They both know how important it all is to Derek, so they bandage him up and go on with their itinerary. It’s not long before they both begin noticing some not so subtle changes occurring in Derek. He vomits whenever he tries to eat something. He’s incredibly strong and super fast. He feels compelled to pull part of his eyeballs out. And of course, there’s that aforementioned desire to consume human blood.
Lee and Prowse co-wrote and co-directed the film, and they start things off strong with not only a convincing relationship but also a believable reason as to why the cameras will be rolling throughout the film. One of found footage films’ many weaknesses is the omnipresent question as to how/why people are filming certain scenes when they should be running, hiding, or otherwise not being concerned with the camera framing, and Afflicted handles that pretty well through a combination of onscreen explanation and the frequent use of GoPro cameras attached to their bodies.
The latter work in particular brings a level of excitement and energy to the film that even manages to one-up some Hollywood action films. It’s fun watching Derek demonstrate his new abilities including jumping from rooftops, but his skills and the camerawork are put to the test during a couple different interactions with the authorities. POV chase scenes take us over walls and through windows, and they bring a level of adrenaline foreign to traditional found footage horror. They’re more reminiscent of some fun scenes from V/H/S/2, and that’s a good thing.
Equally impressive is the seamless nature of much of the digital effects work. From sunlight burns to bloodletting to wire-removal, the camera doesn’t blink meaning viewers are left in awe more than once at the events onscreen. It’s not all about capturing the money shots though as Lee and Prowse wisely allow for some realistic reactions too. Some early non-GoPro footage falls to the ground as the person holding the camera responds believably to whatever it is they’re seeing.
The core strength of the film is in the real friendship between the two leads/filmmakers that permeates their good times onscreen and their bad. Their acting abilities are tested as the story grows more dramatic, but it never gets bad enough to knock you out of the experience unfolding onscreen. The script allows for a strong setup and takes an interesting turn around the midpoint, but the ending does feel a bit too abrupt given the events and the “fact” that this is footage we’re ostensibly watching on their trip’s website.
One word of warning to horror junkies though — the film isn’t really that focused on the horror. We’re given a couple creepy scenes that qualify as jump scares and there are numerous deaths, but for the most part the movie is more interested in being a fun, modern, creatively executed experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Afflicted is an entertaining mash of Chronicle, An American Werewolf in London, and Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, and it succeeds through a combination of smarts, ingenuity, and heart. It’s a highly enjoyable watch, and when’s the last time you could honestly say that about a found footage film?
The Upside: Strong character work enhances later drama; some seamless digital effects work; exciting GoPro action sequences; interesting shift at midpoint
The Downside: Lee’s acting weakens a bit as drama intensifies; questionable mid-conversation edits typical in found footage; abrupt ending
On the Side: Lee and Prowse are making their onscreen feature debuts here.