Someone was bound to make a film like “Afflicted,” which does for a certain horror staple what “Chronicle” did for superheroes. Taking what we know of the genre and blending it into the reality suggested by the found footage format, it reduces the need for spectacle and makes the extraordinary feel as if it really is.
But in the case of Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, the film’s co-directors and co-stars, the approach is especially effective not only because the two clearly have a rapport that was forged long before making this film, deepening the film’s emotional pull once the two are split apart onscreen. Peppering the opening minutes of the film with video of the two messing around with their camcorder during what appears to be their time in high school, “Afflicted” sets up the pair as best friends who have decided to travel the world together for a Web series, Clif because he needs something to film at all times, a handheld never far from his grasp when he isn’t wearing a GoPro, and Derek because he’s been diagnosed with a rare medical abnormality called AVM which could take his last breath at any time.
The series they film together “Ends of the Earth” is so expertly done that it could appear on the Travel Channel, yet after stops in Barcelona and Paris, the footage becomes more raw as something strange begins to happen to Derek after an evening out with a mysterious woman named Audrey (Baya Rahaz) and while initially the vomiting and blistering skin would suggest his AVM might be flaring up, it’s not long before he experiences some unusual side benefits that rule out that diagnosis and suggest something else entirely.
At this point, Clif can’t do much for Derek, except for continuing to roll camera since Derek fears a doctor would put an end to the global tour should he visit a hospital, and though the film at times flirts with failing the test of why someone such as Clif would continue to document such clearly traumatic events rather than to help a friend, “Afflicted” constantly transcends the gimmick due in no small part to the relationship between Clif and Derek, whose personal connection is never in question. It also is buoyed by the inventive camera work of cinematographer Norm Li, who stages scenes to always leave a little mystery whether it’s obscuring parts of the frame during action scenes or two exceptionally riveting chase sequences from the point of view of the person wearing the camera, with the splatters of blood that impinge on the lens allowing the audience’s imagination run wild with what kind of shape the character’s actually in.
Although “Afflicted” is light on truly frightening moments, it compensates with plenty of personality and chills, with the fun Lee and Prowse are having palpable enough to bleed off the screen. By putting themselves front and center, the two elevated their feature debut into something special and if “Afflicted” is any indication, they’ll hold on to the spotlight for a long time to come.
“Afflicted” will be released by CBS Films. It will play Fantastic Fest once more on September 24th.