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The found-footage horror genre gets a much-needed shot in the arm with the auspicious debut feature by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse in which they also play the starring roles. Displaying a rare inventiveness and technical facility in this increasingly tired, cliche-ridden format, Afflicted delivers a genuinely suspenseful ride while making you wonder how its more elaborate effects were achieved on its obviously low budget.
The story concerns best friends Derek and Clif, who decide to take a yearlong trip together around the world. This being a found-footage film, the duo naturally intends to fully document their experiences in the form of an extensive video travelogue. Complicating their journey is the fact that just before they leave, Derek is diagnosed with a dangerous condition that could result in a fatal brain aneurysm at any time.
Things start well enough, with the pair engaging in such activities as skydiving in Barcelona. But things take a dark turn when Derek hooks up with a beautiful French woman (Baya Rehaz) at a nightclub, only to be mysteriously left suffering from a bloody wound.
He soon finds himself the worse for wear, power vomiting during lunch at a picturesque seaside restaurant and experiencing an incapacitating burning skin rash. From there the film detours into territory covered by the recent found-footage film Chronicle, as Derek discovers that he seems to have developed superhuman powers that enable him to punch through a stone wall and leap to the top of a building.
But his joyfulness wears off quickly when he experiences an insatiable thirst for blood that indicates that rather than transforming into a superhero, he’s instead become a vampire. At first he attempts to alleviate his cravings with blood taken from a butcher shop and a blood bank, with less than satisfactory results. “I think it might need to be fresh,” he explains to his increasingly horrified friend.
The violent mayhem quickly escalates, as the now seemingly immortal Derek — a suicide attempt with a shotgun proves ineffective — spreads murderous havoc in his wake. He finds himself pursued by the authorities, including a SWAT team whose attempts to corral him results in a wild chase in which his otherworldly abilities are on ample display. It’s a dynamically staged and photographed set piece that is the film’s undeniable highlight.
Although it suffers from the inevitable lapses in logic endemic to found-footage films — somehow, every step of the chaotic proceedings manages to get captured on video — Afflicted is an uncommonly expert example of the genre, with the incredibly inventive photography and editing providing real jolts of terror. And while their storyline may be derivative of countless previous horror films, the directors/screenwriters infuse it with enough quirky original touches to provide an air of freshness. They also manage to deliver highly engaging, naturalistic performances, with Lee movingly conveying his character’s anguish at his increasingly monstrous condition.
Opens April 4 (CBS Films)
Production: Automatik Entertainment, Telefilm Canada
Cast: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Baya Rehaz, Benjamine Zeitoun
Directors/screenwriters: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Producers: Chris Ferguson, Zach Lipovsky
Executive producers: Jason Dowdeswell, Stuart Ford, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Zak Pashak
Director of photography: Norm Li
Editor: Greg Ng
Production designer/costume designer: Courtney Sockstad
Composer: Edo Van Breemen
Rated R, 89 min.
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