Just when you're sure the "found footage" horror hook has snatched its final breath... up pops another really good example to remind us that, yep, there really is some craftsmanship and creativity to be found in this storytelling format. I freely admit to being a big fan of the found footage presentation, and just because I've seen dozens of really awful examples, that's not going to keep me from digging into movies like Afflicted.
You'll probably hear this a lot when Afflicted comes up, so let's get it out of the way now: yes, this film feels almost like a companion piece to the oddly appealing "found footage superhero" film known as Chronicle. Both movies deal with a group of friends who discover some crazily superhuman new powers, use handheld video cameras to document their exciting new powers, and then grow to realize that Mother Nature is nothing but a cruel and ironic woman. But while Chronicle dealt with three pals who stumble across "super powers," Afflicted focuses on two lifelong friends who are forced to deal with a transformation decidedly less appealing than that of a "superhero." I don't want to spoil anything; let's just say that Afflicted is a very novel spin on a potentially familiar horror story and leave the specifics for the viewer to enjoy.
Co-written, co-starring, and co-directed by two plainly talented young filmmakers named Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, Afflicted is about two lifelong pals who decide to spend a year traveling across the globe while documenting their adventures on their blog. But Derek has a disturbing altercation with a beautiful young lady in Barcelona, and it doesn't take long for the audience to realize that Derek is now "afflicted" with a seriously effed-up medical problem. After a chatty but appealing first act, Afflicted gets down to some seriously interesting genre exercises in Act II before settling into a finale that's quite a lot of fast-paced (and sometimes very splattery) fun.
The astute genre fans will no doubt recognize a few of the inspirations here. In addition to Chronicle, Afflicted taps into themes and ideas that are also found in An American Werewolf in London, The Lost Boys, even David Cronenberg's rendition of The Fly. That's not to compare Afflicted to any of these very good movies, but it's comforting to know that Mr. Prowse and Mr. Lee are not only impressive filmmakers in a technical sense; they also have really good taste in horror movies.
Afflicted is simply a very clever spin on a very old and scary story, but what makes it a bit more impressive than that is how it illustrates how cool "found footage" can be when it's done with serious care and craftsmanship. As a survivor of more low-budget found-footage flicks than I can count, I take great pleasure in finding a new one that advances the technique instead of simply treading old ground. Basically, Afflicted is a great example of what can happen when high-tech, high concept, and old-fashioned scary storytelling are combined into one little ass-kicker of a horror film.
Best of all, Prowse and Lee seem to realize that no amount of creative camerawork or nifty special effects will matter if you don't have some characters worth caring about. Afflicted is a truly impressive debut: clever, creative, and (yep!) seriously creepy stuff that should please horror nuts and relative scaredy-cats in equal measure.