This review originally ran September 2013 during our Fantastic Fest coverage.
Two oft-used sub-genres in horror collide in Afflicted – "found footage" and bloodsuckers – and the result is something akin to what you could call "Chronicle with a Vampire."
As tired as both of those sub-genres may be, this film is surprisingly effective – more thrilling than scary, nonetheless an impressive example that there are still clever ways to utilize the found footage narrative trope and keep the vampire mythos alive.
Afflicted acts as a tragic video travel log following Clif and Derek, best friends who have known each other for years. The concept here is that the footage isn't so much "found" as it is recorded and uploaded via Cliff's blog so friends and family can tune in while Clif and Derek embark on a world adventure.
Seeing as Cliff is pretty adept at editing, Afflicted's introduction plays much like a graphics-heavy, stylish reality show as we get the lowdown on Clif and Derek's friendship, moreover, the fact that Derek has been diagnosed with a nasty brain condition – thus the primary motivation to "get out and see the world." The slick veneer of the storytelling – which admittedly makes you question which direction this film is going to go in – quickly slips away as the two land in Europe and the blog entries of their trip are more simply presented, lacking the cutesy, poppy vibe Afflicted begins with.
It's in Paris, France that Clif and Derek find themselves at a nightclub and the latter hooks up back at his room with a stunning woman. But as Clif comes to discover, she has left Derek bloodied and a bit of a wreck, confused as to what happened. Nothing was stolen and this mystery woman left all of her belongings behind. The trip continues, yet Derek's condition begins to worsen; he can't keep any food down and he wants to sleep all of the time.
It probably should be noted at this point that the two leads – Clif Prowse and Derek Lee – are also the directors and they do a fairly solid job establishing a tight bond. So, when Derek begins to "change" and Cliff expresses his concern, you believe it. They sell the excitement that comes with the discovery of Derek's newfound powers – such as being able to punch a hole through a cement wall or leaping onto a high ledge from the sidewalk (you gettin' that Chronicle vibe?). The two also do a deft job at presenting the inevitable fear of what Derek will become. He has a craving for blood and it can't be sated by animal blood. It has to be human.
And here is where Afflicted begins to take its audience on an intense, action-driven ride that offers a few cool surprises along the way. The film is smart in establishing why the camera must keep rolling, but like Cloverfield, it suffers from the "how the hell is the camera not damaged?" question when the action escalates. Still, it's a fun trip to see things from Derek's point-of-view when, for instance, he needs to escape a hotel room in the daylight (most vampire "rules" apply in Afflicted) or when he takes on the police. For the gorehounds out there, Afflicted can get pretty grisly, offering torn throats and severe head trauma.
Strip away the found footage, and you have a relatively simple story about a man coping with his condition and setting out to find answers. Still, Afflicted manages to be just more than a found footage gimmick – where technique sometimes outweighs substance – and offers a fresh perspective on vampirism.