*Please note that this review will contain spoilers. If you want to be 100% shocked by Afflicted, please turn away now and watch this breathtaking bit of indie horror gold.
Every once and a while an inventive film comes along that redefines a genre. For me, that movie was Chronicle, a “found footage” superhero movie mixing elements of psychological suspense with astounding camera work and truly gripping storytelling – a welcome curveball amidst so many spandex wearing super-humans. People scoffed at another “found footage” flick, but Josh Trank and Max Landis proved haters wrong.
Question of the day – could the horror genre ever see such an equally mesmerizing affair? Spoiler alert – yes. Enter filmmakers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, two friends with some pro camera equipment and a hatred for current vampire boredom – fanged saviors fighting the horror good fight.
Following Derek (Lee) and Cliff (Prowse) on a year-long international vacation, the beginning of our film is a little bit of a buddy travel comedy of sorts. We learn that Derek has been diagnosed with a disease that could end his life at any moment, which makes his family skeptical about being abroad for a full year, but Derek instead sees his affliction as a motivator to live life to the fullest. As their trip goes on, Derek starts showing signs of some type of sickness, which Cliff immediately assumes has to do with Derek’s longstanding condition, but newer symptoms start suggesting something different. Getting worse and worse, Cliff begs Derek to seek medical attention, but the friends continue on their journey only on Derek’s insisting – until turning into something sinister.
As a horror fan who watches A LOT of horror, it takes something special to get me excited, yet Afflicted managed to scare AND excite me through our filmmaker’s gritty, hypnotic, and raw interpretation of vampiric lore. Without knowing any plot details, I expected an average, run-of-the-mill body horror film, but being caught so off-guard gave a thrilling jolt of euphoria as I slowly realized we weren’t getting zombies, plagues, or flesh-eating viruses. Prowse and Lee stay extremely simple, yet approach vampire transformations in a fresh, new, and groundbreaking way that makes us forget the years of sparkly, love-struck emo wussies who would have been torn in two by the beasts in Afflicted.
Approaching the “found footage” genre, recent watches like Happy Camp had me down on the format, but consider my support re-kindled once again by beautiful cinematography and clear, crisp pictures. No swirling cameramen trying to give us motion sickness – Afflicted makes brilliant use of dream tech gear and shoots a better movie for it. First person camera angles aren’t used to manipulate audiences into believing they’re terrified, instead pacing like an action movie where Derek continually tests his abilities while Cliff watches with astonishment. Once the true vampire work kicks in, audiences are treated to a horror rollercoaster of sorts as Derek fully transforms and straps one of Cliff’s cameras on – heightening already existent levels of fun as V/H/S/2 did by strapping a Go-Pro to a zombie. Fans swayed by “found footage” exploitation need not avoid this flick simply because of the shooting style – Afflicted is a rare “found footage” treat full of life…and death.
Newcomer Derek Lee carries Afflicted only because he’s the one slowly turning into a vampire – a feral, vicious, grotesquely scary vampire with pulsing veins, dead eyes, and a wicked mean streak that Lee plays to perfection. Contorting his body and creeping about the night, certain camera angles catch Derek in all his horror glory, as Lee commands the screen with a noteworthy performance that brings vampires back into the vicious spotlight such creatures once ruled. Clif Prowse plays well with Derek, but he’s merely a cameraman as Derek throws himself into seizures, lurks in the shadows, and embraces full fight sequences all with the same fervent grace. What a turn by these young horror bucks.
Maybe you’re questioning the visual aesthetics of an indie horror movie, worried limited budgeting would ruin practical effects work? Wrong again, kiddo. Afflicted is full of blood slurping, throat ripping, head bashing, and true vampire grossness that comes along with opening people up like a tasty Capri-Sun. Our actors get elbow deep in a vampire world brave enough to show these monsters for who they are – murderous killers feeding off the living for sustenance. That doesn’t sound like a clean hobby now, does it? Praise be carnivorous practical effects work and spurting gallons of fake blood, oozing every ounce of camera friendly gore possible – so much that the lens has to be wiped every so often.
Afflicted won’t only be one of the best indie horror films of 2014, but there’s no doubt in my mind it’ll go down as one of the best horror movies of 2014. Honestly, Prowse and Lee have created one of the best vampire movies I’ve seen in years, undoing countless Twilight knockoffs that de-fanged such a famous genre. Vamps finally have their bite back, unconventionally saved by a “found footage” subgenre floundering enough by itself. Talk about the balls it takes to reinvent not only one horror subgenre, but two! Kudos my friends, kudos on making a non-stop horror thrill ride for adrenaline junkies and scare lovers to soak in like glorious rays of warm, comforting sunlight – which I happily embrace as I’ve yet to be turned vampiric. Stay thirsty, my friends.