In Afflicted, Derek (Derek Lee) and Clif (Clif Prowse) have been friends all their lives but when a string of severe headaches lead to the discovery that Derek is suffering from AVM (arteriovenous malformation), he decides it’s now or never – he’s got to take a trip around the world. With Clif in tow documenting the adventure, Derek hops a plane to Europe to begin fulfilling his lifelong dream.
The boys are having a blast, but after a night out, Derek’s health starts to deteriorate. Assuming the symptoms could be a sign that Derek’s AVM has ruptured, Clif begs Derek to put their plans on hold and get checked out at a local hospital, but little does Clif know, not even the finest doctors in the world can stop the mysterious affliction that’s consuming his friend’s body.
First-time feature filmmakers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse annihilate the found footage stigma with stunning camerawork, vivid gore and a clever, highly entertaining narrative in Afflicted. Looking for some good old found footage jump scares and gore? Afflicted’s got it. Looking for a shaky cam movie that’s got something new to offer? Afflicted’s got that, too. Lee and Prowse have hit the ideal balance between meeting expectations and showing you something you’ve never seen before.
Afflicted pushes the boundaries and treads into extreme territory, but strong character development paired with highly likable leads grounds the scenarios to the point at which it’s both engaging and feels very real. Within minutes, not only are you well aware of Derek’s condition, how it effects him now and what it can do to him down the line, but you also get a thorough understanding of his friendship with Clif, what their childhood was like, and how Derek’s family feels about their plans. Top that off with the fact that Clif and Derek are just two really pleasant, normal, fun-loving guys and you’re just as thrilled to hop on that plane to Europe, giving the film an impressive amount of momentum right from the start.
When things take a turn for the worst, Afflicted gets intense, but Lee and Prowse constantly make a conscious effort to keep the material light enough so that when it does become deeply disturbing, you’re still able to enjoy the experience. While Derek is definitely on a downward spiral, the film doesn’t get bleaker and bleaker as his condition worsens. For a good chunk of the movie, he still suspects that it’s the AVM causing the problems, so he’s still forging forward and enthusiastic about the trip. But, even when both Clif and Derek realize that they’ve got an unprecedented problem on their hands, there are still moments of levity, giving viewers the chance to absorb and appreciate the novelty of the scenario.
And that’s not to say that Afflicted is all fun and games. This is easily one of the most terrifying POV films in recent years and it’s largely due to the fact that we’ve never seen a story like this. When you’re dealing with paranormal entities, you know what’s coming; the bumps in the night will get worse and worse and the target will grow paler and paler until the demon assumes control and kills. Here, you’re feeling out this situation right along with Clif and Derek and, just like them, you’ve got absolutely no clue what could possibly come next, and that’s deeply unnerving.
Afflicted does have a strong through line that’s rooted in the leads’ friendship and personal growth, but there are also clear-cut stages to the progression of this condition and each one is more of a shock than the next. The film definitely has a serious gross-out factor that one would normally peg as a cheap attempt at creating shock value, but the narrative is so well layered and the images so well composed that the gore is shocking, but also inventive and oddly beautiful.
Visually, Afflicted is one of the best shot shaky cam horror movies out there. Clif is meant to be an aspiring documentary filmmaker so he’s got far better equipment than the traditional camcorder and it makes a significant difference for the viewer. Shots go in and out of focus every so often, as they should, but for the most part, every image is exceptionally crisp, helping the audience keep their bearings, their lunch and get a good look at the wildly impressive in-camera tricks, digital effects and visceral make-up.
Admittedly Afflicted can stumble for some toward the tail end of the film. The narrative is loaded with unique twists and turns, and they’re all well earned, but Prowse and Lee’s last big push is a bit familiar and that could make viewers less likely to accept it. The film is extremely absorbing, so this realization should feel like a natural transition, but for moviegoers who have a tendency to need more convincing than most, this could be the breaking point.
However, that’s for tough sells only. Afflicted is a major achievement in a wide variety of respects and will undoubtedly open doors for Prowse and Lee. Not only are they notably thoughtful filmmakers, putting the utmost care into every shot, effect and story progression, they both have undeniable screen presence.
CBS Films has yet to set a release date for this film, but Afflicted is certainly one worth keeping an eye on.
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