Studio: Sony Pictures
Director: Clif Prowse, Derek Lee
Writer: Clif Prowse, Derek Lee
Producer: Chris Ferguson, Zach Lipovsky
Stars: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Zeitoun, Zach Gray, Edo Van Breeman
A trip around the world becomes a horrifying ordeal for two friends when one of them is stricken with a mysterious affliction.
The reason why I slog through dozens of uninspired “found footage” movies about ghost hunters in haunted buildings and campers caught in the woods is because every now and again, albeit all too rarely, a movie like “Afflicted” emerges as a reminder of how effective the format can be when used creatively and with purpose. For someone perpetually out of breath from defending “found footage” against the teeming legions of horror fans who dismiss the subgenre as in need of an Old Yeller mercy killing, discovering “Afflicted” is sweet vindication. This must be how Howard Carter felt uncovering Tutankhamen’s tomb after years of hearing people declare that digging in the sand was a waste of time.
The characters. The camerawork. The story. The presentation. Everything about “Afflicted” is done right.
After learning that best bud Derek has an aneurysm in his brain that could burst without warning, Clif packs up his camera equipment and the duo embarks on a yearlong trip around the world. The constant filming is for the online travelogue that keeps friends, family, and well-wishers back home in the loop on their adventures.
As a single man on a globetrotting tour is wont to do, Derek hooks up with a sultry Frenchwoman at a Parisian nightclub and takes her back to his hotel room. As longtime guy friends unable to let a prank opportunity pass are wont to do, Clif and two other pals bust in on the one night stand for a good old-fashioned cock block. What they find instead is Derek covered in blood with strange wounds on his face and his arms.
As the international trek continues, Derek’s condition grows increasingly worse. When Clif and Derek finally discover what is actually happening, Derek can only wish that he had simply contracted an STD instead. More than just well executed and highly entertaining as first-person horror, “Afflicted” turns into the most believable body horror transformation movie I have ever seen.
How do writers/directors/co-stars/friends Derek Lee and Clif Prowse pull it off? Through sincerity of vision and respect for the medium.
Besides having an off-camera friendship that translates into onscreen chemistry, Prowse and Lee have a clear affinity for their project and a deep commitment to cherishing how carefully they craft it. These are not two filmmaking hucksters having some friends improvise a script in the forest nearby and hoping to turn a quick buck on the cheap. This is a project they care about, and that evident passion is what makes the audience care, too.
Riding along on the first act ramp-up is nowhere near the chore it is in similar movies. Instead of routine exposition, interviews with locals, or pointless backstory, “Afflicted” bounces around France, Spain, and Italy as Clif and Derek skydive, tour a vineyard, and take the viewer on a great-looking visual trip through Europe. Maybe these scenes feel so much better because the competition is so much worse, but the refreshing change of scenery and the effort taken to bring the film out of their backyard starts things on the right foot.
Barely 15 minutes into the film, the friendships are fully relatable. When the expectation of ha-ha hilarity leads instead to a horrific hotel room surprise, it makes for a compelling moment that is only the first of many satisfying shocks that are delivered.
Given how impossible the reveal behind the premise is, “Afflicted” has no right to come off as plausible as it does. Yet the realistic way that Derek and Clif deal with the situation is unexpectedly convincing. Combine their thoughtful attention to staging with smart production design, and theirs is a world successfully bridging tangible reality with intangible fantasy in a way that should be unattainable.
It is almost worth being jealous over how much works in their favor seemingly without trying. There is a simple shot of a dog trotting past the camera in one scene where the canine continually turns his head back at the lens as if measuring an unseen danger. It’s the kind of moment that is impossible to script, yet luckily leaps in their lap as just one more dollop of icing on a cake that could give Willy Wonka diabetes.
From a mind’s eye-burning image of a shotgun suicide to a chest-mounted camera chase scene that outdoes anything Jason Bourne has ever tried, “Afflicted” blends superhero action, bloodthirsty horror, and straightforward drama into genuinely memorable entertainment. This is why “found footage” exists. “Afflicted” is one of the best examples of ingenuity in storytelling that transcends the much-maligned format rather than exploits it.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits sequence.
Review Score: 90