Wednesday, April 30, 2014

FILM REVIEW: Afflicted (2013)


I was having a semi-passionate debate with a good friend recently on the relevance of found footage in the genre, especially within independent horror films. My argument was that it presented a good springboard for the filmmaker in which to present a cool idea with a tiny budget. My friend argued that found footage should go fuck itself.

Now, I do try to be more accepting and open-minded about such things as found footage horror films...which is crazy in a time when the studios basically force-feed them down your throat every year. I'm of the thought that for every terrible 10 found footage films, there's a gem somewhere in there...waiting to be discovered. Most genre fans don't even wanna bother sifting through all the crap. And, seriously...who can blame them? Found footage horror is kind of synonymous these days with stale mainstream horror. Gone is all the cool camera trickery and the ingenuity that made the format so promising in the beginning. Well, the new film Afflicted  promises to deliver something fresh to the tired sub-genre. Perhaps ingenuity is not altogether dead.

I first heard about Afflicted  last year when it hit TIFF in the fall. Which sucked because I really wanted to go to that Toronto festival. But, I sat there and waited. And waited. Then, finally, I found out that it hit iTunes...and so, off I went!


Before I begin my review of the film, I really wanted to give props to the filmmakers of Afflicted. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse not only wrote and directed the film, they both star as the main leads. One can argue that it's easy to just play the characters that they wrote themselves. I mean, who better to follow direction of the directors than the directors themselves? But, I would debate that to star in a film that you wrote and directed is quite the tricky task, my friends. Especially in a found footage affair. You're basically acting out all the scenes and situations that you envisioned for someone else. A distinct character that you sort of gave birth to. I guess it all comes down to playing your newborn idea, birthed from your own imagination. That's kinda fucking hard, man! But, Lee and Prowse do it all so seemingly effortless and wonderfully conceived. Hell, even cinematographer Norm Li does a great job of creating a different found footage vibe than the shaky one that we're all so used to. Here, Li really brings to life the beauty of the Italian landscapes and the dread within the shadows of Paris. A feat that might've been an unfortunate loss in the hands of lesser filmmakers. So, again...kudos to everyone involved on the production of Afflicted.

The film opens with Derek (Derek Lee) and Cliff (Clif Prowse) introducing themselves as long-time friends who are on this crazy quest to travel around the world and document everything onto an interactive website called "Ends of Earth". Kind of like some of those party web series you sometimes see on the interwebz. Everything seems so happy and plucky until the film presents the notion of Derek being afflicted with this life-threatening condition in his brain that could cause him to pretty much die if he isn't careful. However, this only adds fuel to Derek's quest...and the show goes on. Normally, in films like this...these characters are presented as hollow, underdeveloped caricatures whom we end up not ever caring a single ounce of emotion for. Thankfully, Derek and Cliff are likable individuals whom we grow to really appreciate and like. Thus, setting things up for a hell of a ride.

It's not long before something happens along the way on their jolly fun trip through Paris and Derek wakes up with a gash across his upper shoulder and a bloody eye. I won't reveal the particulars...but, let's just say that some ho's be the triflin' kind and poor Derek is left to discover his new self while his life-long buddy, Cliff can only stand by and watch his metamorphosis. It kind of puts a little bit of a bummer on their awesomely kickass "Ends of Earth" thingy.


Afflicted  doesn't really bring new elements to the found footage sub-genre as much as it does its best to improve on it. The film really does quite a bit to set a new bar for the format, much like the VHS  films have done in the past couple years. Let's face it...there's not much that filmmakers can really do these days to create something new in terms of the particular format. But, they can certainly make it better....and both Lee and Prowse really display a knack for storytelling with Afflicted. A notion that isn't really seen too much these days. Especially for the tarnished vampire film. Afflicted not only does great things for found footage, but it also does its part to help revitalize the vampire sub-genre.

As far as the gory FX stuff goes, Afflicted  kind of blew me away. I'm not too sure what kind of budget these guys had to work with but, it really feels like a much more expensive film. Like on the scale of 2012's Chronicle, which was as big a budget as a found footage film could get. All the vomit and gore and sticky body horror stuff feels so fun and organic in Afflicted, and even tho I'm sure there's quite a bit of CGI used in the film...it's done in conjunction with the practical stuff to make everything feel seamless.

Perhaps my only gripes with the film lie in the fact that the found footage format makes the entire thing feel limited and confined. While I appreciated the expansive shots and the desire to really make the film feel bigger, it's found footage, after all. That's why the format works so great for stuff like REC  or the Paranormal Activity  films, where the action mostly takes place in one small location. So, the hand-held actually adds to the claustrophobia of it all. The film also feels more like a superhero origin film rather than a straight horror movie. There are elements in the film that feel more at home in Blade  rather a tiny horror film. And this might be getting a tad spoilerish, I suppose...but, Afflicted  really missed a golden opportunity to tie things up nicely between Derek and Cliff with its abrupt ending. Stick around for the credits scene and you'll see what I mean. And the way the story just abandons the whole Audrey thing just leaves the viewer feeling a bit shortchanged. Unless, of course, Lee and Prowse are just saving all this unfinished stuff for a sequel down the road.

Still, Afflicted  is a solid contender for my favorite found footage horror film of the year. While it's not really all that scary, it boasts some really cool stuff in it and it has enough originality going for it that I want to see more from these guys. Highly recommended.





Thanks for reading,

bryan.




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