If there’s one thing that can sour me on the very notion of a film these days, it’s the descriptor “found footage.” Too often, filmmakers use the found footage tropes to disguise a dearth of creativity or budget, instead shoveling the same old shaky-cam antics down viewers’ gullets one more time in the name of horror. Honestly, if I never read a synopsis that contains the phrases “team of investigators,” “asylum,” and “found footage” again, I would count myself lucky. And yet…
And yet the indie horror market continues to provide the exception that proves the point, a film of such vision, originality and passion, it makes the old tropes seem new again and makes for surprising and satisfying viewing. Tired of vampires? Check out Kiss of the Damned. Sick of zombies? Give The Battery a go. Fed up with found footage? Meet Afflicted.
Yes, Afflicted is a found footage film, the primary difference being that this movie looks fantastic. The filmmakers have given the subjects license to use professional equipment and multiple cameras to make for a movie that looks and feels more like standard visual narrative than most films of this type. That’s not to say the movie is without the common vocabulary of these films, it just does a little more with it than most.
The story is straightforward and understandable. Derek Lee has learned that a vascular bundle in his brain is poised to debilitate or even kill him at any time. Determined to live despite the threat of death, Derek enlists the aid of his life-long pal, Cliff (Clif Prowse), to aid him in a year-long tour of the world, starting in Europe. Cliff and Derek have dabbled in filmmaking throughout their childhood, and Cliff goes so far as to create a body harness so he can record their adventures hands-free or with multiple cameras.
During a night out with friends in Paris, Derek connects with the seductive Audrey (Baya Rehaz), and it’s not long before Derek’s drunken friends decide to burst in on the couple, mid-coitus. What they discover, however, is Derek left alone and bleeding in the hotel room with no sign of the Parisian fling. As the trip continues, Derek exhibits symptoms and abilities that both disturb and excite them, but Derek’s condition is more terrifying than either may initially suspect.
As Cliff works to aid and understand Derek’s sickness, clever use of an overplayed genre convention makes the back half of the movie a thrilling haul through gloriously beautiful locales and upends common assumptions all at once. As their friendship is tested by Derek’s deteriorating condition, some of the old found footage tricks are on display, as lights in a dark room will inevitably find a scare at the last possible moment, but this movie is far, far more than a collection of easy jump scares.
The use of the camera harness in the last act makes for some of the most exciting sequences I’ve seen from this sort of film in some time. Some of you may have seen the superhero/found footager called Chronicle, and Afflicted is cut from the same cloth, unafraid to be both visceral and attractive. There are moments that soar with discovery and others that descend into the depths of horror involving Derek’s illness, and both are done with grace.
In short, Afflicted is a confident and exciting entry into the found footage sub-genre that packs some satisfying emotional moments while delivering on the promise of the subject matter. Though some of Derek’s motivations in the latter half of the film become muddy, the quick runtime, strong performances from the leads, and a healthy dose of creative license involving a tried-and-true curse set this film high above most found footage exercises. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great ride.