Many a horror fan in our crowd flinch a little bit when the term ‘found footage’ gets uttered – ‘another one?’ you might grumble to yourself. But much like Ti West’s ‘The Sacrament’, Afflicted thinks its way through the logical pitfalls of found footage and emerges on the other side a well executed, often freaky and all together well done film that transcends the many lesser films dealing with similar framework.
The film focuses on Clif Lee and Derek Prowse, two longtime friends who plan out an extensive, year-long trip around the globe in an effort to create a living, interactive documentary. They do this by constantly uploading footage to their website and working off of and taking cues from comments posted by those following their journey. It is clever and, in my mind, passes the logical test right off the bat. It motivates them having different cameras and a slew of equipment and adds weight to the whole affair. This isn’t two profiteers trying to exploit the places they visit but instead is two regular type guys that want to actualize a longtime dream and create something original. If it isn’t already obvious, this really endears both men to the audience in a sincere way. The whole opening of the film takes us through a series of sometimes embarrassing footage and photos of their growing up together and lays out the trip plan. Again, totally endearing and charming in a real kind of way, no emotional manipulation at all.
Clif and Derek meet up with some buddies in the band Unalaska on tour while in Paris and set about the task of introducing Derek to a girl. This seems to go well initially but after a prank the rest of the guys try to play on Derek back at his hotel reveals him in a bloodied, unconscious state, it is clear something went really wrong with the girl he’d met. From this point forward, Derek starts to deteriorate and change and display more and more erratic behaviour, baffling bodily abilities and a seriously bad gastrointestinal issue with food. Derek suffers from a rare brain condition (revealed early on and referenced by Derek’s less than supportive family) and Cliff thinks, initially, that the screwy behavior might have something to do with it and tries to help his friend to figure out what is happening to him all the while growing more and more worried about the possible implications of these changes in Derek.
I cannot, in good conscience, go into much of the second half of the film and how it all comes to a head. All I’ll say is that the tension is strong, the scares are more of the dread variety than the jump-scare variety and the twists and turns of the story are well executed and near-perfectly paced. But above those things, the real reason the film works so well is that you really care about these men and you feel the pain and fear Derek is dealing with both directly with him, and through Clif’s eyes. It is because these men matter, that they are important that the dire, scary situation they find themselves in resonates as well as it does. Often scary and with a real emotional core, Afflicted is an unexpected gem that I hope gets some serious support when released.