'Afflicted' is a surprising and inventive entry into found-footage horror
Afflicted CBS Films
Director: Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Screenplay: Clif Prowse and Derek Lee
Starring: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Baya Rehaz, Jason Lee and Benjamin Zeiton
Rated R / 1 hour, 25 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Afflicted is the rare found-footage movie that understands how important perspective is to its entire aesthetic. Rather than going for traditional footage and using the first-person style as a mere affectation, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse seem to have envisioned each shot with a specific point of view in mind.
This is an enormous distinction, and it's what allows the movie to play like a series of urgent personal moments rather than an artificially constructed story with a silly visual device.
What begins as a euphoric video travelogue among two friends slowly descends into a nightmare scenario in which one of them is transformed into a vampire. Lee and Prowse play cleverly fictionalized versions of themselves, best pals gearing up to live the dream, the dream being a year-long trip around the world. Clif being the voracious filmmaker that he is, he plans on documenting the whole thing and uploading the videos online for friends and family. He's got all kinds of cameras for the journey - you get the sense he spent very little time on his wardrobe and almost all of it on selecting what equipment to bring - and has designed a pair of vests with which he and his trusted companion will wear mounted cameras.
Which is a whole lot better than the typical found footage M.O., which is to ignore the question of why someone is still holding the camera when that terrifying monster is chasing him. But more importantly, Prowse and Lee take full advantage of the camera placement, giving us a first-person experience that I would affectionately compare to a first person video game. We see things develop the way they do, rather than the filmmakers externally providing context or narrative guidance. This is particularly effective when Derek - once infected - begins climbing up walls and leaping across buildings in a single bound. There's a real sense of gravity as we leap from the ground to the top of a three-story building, then peer down at everyone gawking from below. The result is a style of camerawork that has a tangible physical effect - which, again, is what sets Afflicted apart from most other found-footage entries, whose POV feels strangely divorced from the experience of the person's actual POV.
The filmmakers display a firm grasp of the geography within their scenes - an increasingly rare gift - which comes in especially handy during some key action sequences where a less disciplined approach to the handheld camerawork would have been a disaster. Utilizing long takes and hidden cuts, Lee, Prowse and cinematographer Norm Li put together a couple of nifty chase scenes, nicely choreographing Derek's movements through alleyways and city squares.
But let's back up a bit. Because how we get there - to Derek's transformation from happy-go-lucky twentysomething to terrified budding vampire - is surprisingly interesting as well. It begins in expected fashion, with the two friends introducing themselves to the camera and explaining their plans for the round-the-world trip. They give us background details - most notably that Derek has been diagnosed with a rare brain condition that could affect him, even kill him, at any time. He's committed to savoring every moment from here on out, and with that in mind he's planned this trip - despite the concerns of his friends and family, who worry that, if he ever starts coming down with headaches or seizures, he won't be close enough to a hospital.
Little do they know that the brain condition will be the least of Derek's worries.
The trip begins in Barcelona, but really begins to take a turn in Paris, where Derek meets a woman at a bar and the two disappear into his hotel room. This pleases Cliff and their other friends to no end, as it appears they've finally gotten their good buddy laid. But when they discover Derek in his bed covered in blood, their sentiments change. Physical changes start to affect him right away - first it's just nausea and lethargy. Then it's nearly superhuman strength. Then the ability to run about 60 kilometers an hour. And eventually the burning desire to consume human blood.
What's interesting is how Prowse and Lee capture the changes in attitude about what is happening. It begins with concern after Derek's unexplained mid-coital attack. But then it turns into youthful exuberance as they discover all the amazing things Derek can suddenly do (not unlike the early scenes of Chronicle). And then, eventually, turns into fear and even despair as the two have to come to terms with the reality of Derek's situation, and all the implications that holds.
The film suffers from some tactical storytelling errors - like the fact that Derek and Clif continue to upload videos to their website, even as they begin to get into some highly illegal activity - but the filmmaking is a real feat, from the terrific and mostly seamless special effects to the way the first-person action is depicted, as Prowse and Lee impressively merge their crisp visual compositions with the inevitable visual chaos the technique requires. If nothing else, Afflicted makes for a handy guide on how a movie can take full advantage of its self-imposed limitations.