From one point of view, Afflicted (2013) is what one would get if he or she fused Hostel (2005) with An American Werewolf in London (1981). From another, it’s like the child of Blair Witch Project (1999) and Interview with the Vampire (1994). However, neither of these similes fully captures Afflicted, which is a fresh take on both the supernatural underworld and the foibles of contemporary young Western men of a certain type. It is also a self-examination by two young, independent Canadian filmmakers. While it is possible to dismiss this film as yet another “found footage” horror flick, this attitude will prevent the viewer from enjoying what it has to offer.
Derek Lee and Clif Prowse (as themselves) are two young Canadian men, close friends who decide to realize their dream of making an around-the-world tour. Although young, Derek already has a long history of world travel. Clif does not (and is even somewhat nervous about the prospect), but is a filmmaker and documentarian who cannot miss the opportunities for excellent footage that this trip offers. While an IT professional rather than a filmmaker, Derek has taken part in many of Clif’s previous films.
The reason that they decide to do the travel “now” (in film-world time) is Derek’s recent medical diagnosis: he has an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in his brain, a congenital anomaly that could result in severe disability or sudden death if it ruptures. Needless to say, his family is worried that he could have a serious medical event while traveling in a place where there is no access to appropriate medical care. Derek shrugs off all their concerns — he’s following the YOLO philosophy and isn’t concerned about the risks (at least on the surface).
In order to document their adventures, Clif builds a website on which he posts videos of their progress. Clif literally tapes everything they see and do, no matter how embarassing or inappropriate. As the second act begins with the pair’s departure for Europe, the site’s follower base begins to expand beyond friends and family. In Barcelona, Spain, the first stop on their itinerary, Clif and Derek meet up (as previously planned) with a pair of musicians who are on a European tour. Friends of Clif, they call their group Unalaska (which is an actual group in the real world). They join Clif and Derek on their journey to their next destination, Paris, France, where the two travelers will attend their concert. Part of the plan is for Derek to hook up with a hot French woman.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans often go awry — or, in this case, the best-planned lays. Derek does, in fact, meet a woman, Audrey (Baya Rehaz), whom he takes back to his hotel room. The other three young men decide to play a joke on him by “accidentally” walking in him and Audrey. However, when they burst into the room, they discover a bloodied Derek lying alone on the bed. He has a large bite mark on his upper left arm. Audrey is nowhere to be found.
Immediately the wheels start turning in the horror fan’s mind — Derek has a bite from another human; the movie’s title is Afflicted. Hmmm . . . . Sure enough, Derek starts showing signs of being . . . er . . . unwell. Nevertheless, he refuses to seek medical attention. The duo move on to Italy, where Derek proceeds to sleep a lot — during the day. He’s ravenously hungry, but can’t keep any regular food down. He develops superhuman strength and speed. Then, he gets a wicked sunburn. Is this beginning to ring any bells?
The third act is all about Derek’s efforts to find Audrey; he is convinced that she can cure him. First, he has his trustworthy wingman, Clif, to help him, and then, later, he doesn’t. Hunted by Interpol for the various crimes of increasing severity that he ends up committing, will he make it back to Paris, find Audrey, and find a solution for his dilemma?
Lee and Prowse are not just the stars of this movie; they wrote and directed it as well. Chris Ferguson and Zach Lipovsky took care of production duties. Norm Li did the cinematography, while Greg Ng provided the editing. Production companies included Automatik Entertainment, IM Global, and Téléfilm Canada. The film premiered on 9 September 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian First Feature Film. It went on to win Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay in the Horror Features category at the 2013 Austin Fantastic Fest and Best Special Effects at the 2013 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival.
I watched Afflicted at home via Amazon Instant Video, so I did not have the benefit of the big screen and sound system of a quality movie theater. Nevertheless, some of the visual aspects of the film are probably better suited for a smaller screen. The conceit of the movie is that it was assembled from video shot for a travel blog, which would be seen on a PC, notebook, tablet, or smartphone screen by most followers in real life.
Although documentary-style found-footage horror films have been done before (e.g., Blair Witch Project), this one is original in that the found footage is video meant for posting on the Web. Although some viewers might find it hard to believe that Derek and Clif would continue taping once their situation becomes macabre, there are many film and video professionals (and amateurs as well) who would do just that. The characters themselves lend credulity to their behavior: Clif has been described (and has behaved) in such a way that we as viewers believe his compulsion to document everything with the camera. Derek’s motivation is different. He needs to communicate with the outside world — his friends, family, and (most importantly) Audrey.
Speaking of cinematography: this film combines the “shaky cam” characteristic of handheld work with cool stunts, slick special effects (video and audio), and convincing SFX makeup. There is plenty of blood and guts for the gorehounds to gloat over (although, in the case of suicide via shotgun, it could have been even gorier, based on some real-life examples I have seen). The amazingly beautiful scenery of the European locations juxtaposes well with the ugliness of the horror story that is unfolding. When Derek finally returns to Paris, though, the scenery turns shadowy and dark — appropriately so. We see the darker side of Paris as Derek gets more and more in touch with his darker side.
Besides the central horror story, I like how the film depicts (and subtly satirizes) the modern, North American male “bro” style of close friendship. Since I married into a Chinese (Hong Kong Cantonese, to be more precise) family, I find the subplot involving the dynamics of Derek’s family to be spot on. In its examination of what it takes to be an “ethical” vampire, the movie skewers modern, relativistic morality. Finally, the film is also a critical examination of the world of indie filmmaking by two young filmmakers. They are so caught up in capturing life on video that they are not paying attention when life itself attacks them. And it bites — hard.
So, I agree with Thy Critic Man’s statement about this movie: “Canadians have something to be proud of!” Actually, yet another thing to be proud of.