We’re not all fortunate enough to be in situations where we can go into a movie completely blind, but that’s how I was able to go into Afflicted. After leaving the movie, I tried recommending it to other Fantastic Fest attendees and couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Well it’s a lot like (this movie), but instead of (this plot device), it’s (this other horror plot device).” Make sense? Probably not. All I’m trying to say is that Afflicted is a movie that I enjoyed but is very similar in tone and structure to another, more well-known film from the past few years, but I don’t want to do Afflicted a disservice by only comparing it to a movie I didn’t like all that much. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that eventually, but I’m sure once you read what the movie’s about, you’ll be able to figure out what movie I’m being so cryptic about.
Two best friends, played by writer/directors Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, have decided they want to visit six continents and document their adventure for the internet to see. The time frame for this adventure comes shortly after Derek gets word that he has a rare condition with his brain that could potentially be fatal. Against his family’s wishes, Derek first takes off with Clif for Europe to start this adventure. Things seem pretty normal at first, with the two doing typical tourist activities and going to bars, and Derek even starts trying to use the condition with his brain to try to pick up women. This works with a girl in Paris, but when Clif decides to intentionally interrupt Derek’s sexual exploits, Derek is found in the hotel room with multiple injuries and the woman nowhere to be found. Despite the wounds being treated, the experience seems to have taken an effect on Derek’s overall health. Derek can’t keep food down and gets worn out very easily, and when these frustrations start effecting his emotional state, we learn that there are some parts of his physical condition that have actually been heightened. Although initially excited with his body’s athletic upgrades, Clif and Derek start learning about all the transformations that Derek is going through and wonder if the perks are worth the awful things he needs to do to keep these “powers” in check.
Okay, now after reading that, I can tell you that this movie is like a horror version of Chronicle. However, not having liked Chronicle, and knowing that this movie started shooting before Chronicle was released, I feel bad reducing it to that film’s level. One of the bigger issues that point of view horror films deals with is that they are stories that don’t need to be told in that format but, for whatever reason, arbitrarily shoot the film that way. The reason why Clif and Derek embark on this journey is to document it for the world, so it’s completely justified that it’s from the POV perspective. This allows for lots of really fun gags where Derek learns of the powers he’s gained, whether it be how hard he can punch things or how high he can jump, since the lo-fi aesthetic makes the subtlety of CGI really pop. The limited budget of the film also helped the story and the universe the film was trying to build, because rather than showing mass amounts of carnage, which is something that would obviously make worldwide news, the story was constrained and almost made you think these things could have actually happened. And, not wanting to give away too much, it was nice to see a slightly different take on familiar creature mythology to make the whole thing seem less hokey.
The real life friendship between filmmakers Prowse and Lee also really help sell the movie. You can tell they obviously have chemistry together and you enjoy watching their antics and sympathize with Derek’s condition. You see Clif’s nurturing side, making sure that he’s doing alright, but also see his frustrations when it seems like Derek is feeling sorry for himself. With this being their first feature film, it’s clear that this was the filmmakers’ big opportunity and it doesn’t look like they really gave it their best shot, and I think things really paid off. If you’re not someone who groans at at the phrase “found footage” and understand that it can be an interesting way to tell a story, or if you just want to see a slightly different version of well-worn horror movie tropes, I highly recommend checking out Afflicted. And considering how well this debut feature was, it’s worth checking out the film just to get in on the ground floor of the successful filmmaking team of Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, as I feel this is only their beginning.
You can also read Mike Pereira’s review out of TIFF here.
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