The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews
Although it's uneven and kind of stupid at times, Afflicted brings enough energy and solid visuals to a tired subgenre of horror to create a satisfying and entertaining horror movie. It's the kind of movie that assholes will probably dismiss with an eye roll, but if you're not an asshole, then you'll easily find at least some merit, if not an enjoyable film. I liked this one a lot - particularly knowing that it's a debut effort - and I'm eager to see what the creators come up with next.
My Rating: 4 / 5
The Bit Where I Summarize the Plot
Afflicted is kind of a found footage movie (sorta, maybe - I'll talk about that in a bit) about two friends who go on a trip around the world that quickly and mysteriously turns tragic. Derek Lee (Derek Lee) and Clif Prowse (Clif Prowse) are best friends who want to create a web series called "Ends of the Earth," in which they will travel around the globe and take up dares from their viewers while filming the (hopefully) wacky antics that ensue.
One minor hitch: Derek has an AVM that could potentially become a life-threatening condition if they party a little bit too hard. Determined not to let this keep him from his dreams, he goes on the trip, anyway, much to the delight of buddy Clif. They head off to Paris to begin filming.
The first week is uneventful in the sense that nothing filmworthy happens, but then one night Derek picks up a girl in a bar and goes back to their hotel. When Clif returns to their room, he finds Derek unconscious and bleeding. Derek wakes up and explains that the girl attacked him, but he remembers nothing else.
Derek refuses to go to the hospital for fear that it will end the trip too soon. Instead, he pushes onward and insists they go to their next stop in Italy.
Things get worse. Derek vomits copious amounts, he's sleepy and listless, and his skin burns easily. He insists that he's fine and refuses to visit a doctor. When pushed by Clif, Derek punches a wall out of frustration - and obliterates it.
Some good news: Derek has superpowers now! He can leap huge distances, run faster than a car, and he even has super-strength. Unfortunately, he's simultaneously growing more frail and listless.
From hereon out, I'd say anything I write is technically a spoiler, but you can probably guess at it pretty easily. Even so, since I always prefer to go into movies blind, I'll do you the courtesy of giving some space before I sum up the rest.
Derek's a vampire. As a viewer, you'll probably reach that conclusion early on since they don't really hide any of his vampire weaknesses. "Hmm, this guy is burning in the sunlight and wants to eat blood... aw, he's probably just Canadian."
Because he's a vampire and because this is a horror movie, things take a terrible turn. Clif cuts himself to harvest a small jar of his own blood and tries to give it to Derek to nurse him back to health, but by that point Derek is too far gone in his lust for human flesh. He kills Clif in a mindless hunger and comes back to consciousness only when it's too late. Soon, the authorities are on his tail - surprisingly not for Clif's murder, but rather because of some other shitty things he did the night before.
The movie turns into an action/horror as Clif runs away from the authorities, which leads to some of the best moments in the movie that I'll talk about outside of the spoilers. Eventually he tracks down the woman who turned him and finds out there's no cure for vampirism - not even death. Should he try to avoid drinking blood, he will eventually just snap and murder anybody around him. Should he try to kill himself, he'll just come back to life and be even hungrier for blood.
The best solution? Pick and choose his victims carefully and feast in the smallest doses he can. In fact, the entire reason the lady chose to attack Derek was because she sensed that he was dying and she thought she was being merciful. Him turning into a vampire was a complete accident.
Distraught, Derek concludes that there really isn't any other choice for him. He decides to stay in Europe and use his powers for good (sort of) by hunting and dispatching criminals. The movie ends with him chaining up a pedophile in a creepy murder basement and closing in on him....
Now Here's the Part Where I Complain
There are a few really dumb moments in this movie. I really want to overlook them, but I just can't. They're too rough.
Why doesn't Derek go to the hospital right away? I get that he doesn't want to go home, but there's a huge difference between, "I tripped and hit the ground a little harder than I expected, but I feel fine" and "I got bitten in the arm and clubbed in the skull where my AVM is." I buy that he doesn't want to go home, but I don't buy that he would avoid all medical treatment.
The thing is, they could easily have had a scene at the doctor's office that would've solved this. You just need a scene after he's been attacked where he's reluctant to go to a doctor, but Clif convinces him it's a good idea. Then you cut to them sitting in the doctor's office and panicking about having to go home early, and the doctor walks in on them and says something like, "Are you sure you have an AVM? I think you were misdiagnosed. We just scanned you and we didn't see anything."
This way, you get an idea super early on that something's not right. Derek is more convinced than ever that he doesn't have to go home - "Dude! The AVM is gone! Why would I ever leave?" - and Clif can be even more wary of proceeding - "Yeah, but, dude... things like that can't just disappear, man. We should get a second opinion...."
It's a two-minute scene that fixes a lot of problems early on. Everybody's motivations would make way more sense and you get past that nagging "realism" thing.
Worse than that, though, is that I can't tell how much of the footage that we're seeing has been uploaded to their Youtube page in the movie. Almost none of it should be shared with the public. Especially not the part where they go near a hospital and then assault a couple of people. Why would you put that footage online?
There are moments in the movie where we are explicitly told that the footage was uploaded and all I can do is scream at the TV. Of course Interpol is going to bash in your door, idiot! You just put up a live stream saying, "I'm going to kill this person" right after you uploaded footage of yourself attacking a police officer! What did you think they were going to do?!
I'm willing to overlook a lot of that, though, because this is one of the best found footage movies I've ever seen.
The Bit Where I Praise the Excellent Direction and Camera Work
I'm ambivalent about most found footage movies. I don't really need them to do too much in the way of setting up why the footage exists, and yet every movie feels the need to have an opening sequence explaining just that. I also hate that most of the subgenre devolves into a lot of redundant whip-pans and twirls and "Ohmygods" as people run away from something.
Afflicted does some of this, sure, but the directors were much smarter than that. They had this genius idea that it kind of doesn't matter why things are being filmed or how it is that the viewer is seeing them as long as what you're watching is actually interesting.
This is the first movie I've ever seen that actually does something really interesting and exciting with the first-person viewpoint of a camera. The extended shoot 'em up scene in Doom cost millions of dollars and only barely achieved what Afflicted accomplishes in a matter of seconds for less than $400,000.
There's a moment that was in the trailer where Derek, in first-person view, jumps out of a third-story window and hits the sidewalk below, then turns around and looks up to where he started before he runs away. It's the moment from the trailer that made me want to see the movie. It's a seamless, pulse-pounding visual that just made me think, "How the hell did they do that?"
That shot alone is worth the price of admission. But then I saw the greatest scene in the movie: an extended first-person sequence in which Derek spars with a room full of special ops officers. It's one of the greatest scenes I've seen in a movie all year and by far the greatest scene I've ever watched in a found footage movie.
These moments are what really elevate the movie. In the same way that The Raid had kind of a garbage story, but I thought it was one of the best movies of the year, anyway, I find myself wanting to give Afflicted a higher rating the more I think about it purely on the basis of it being an excellent example of good filmmaking. Whatever flaws it has with its story are more than made up for with its direction.
To put it another way: this is the first found footage movie I've seen that really justifies itself as a found footage movie. You could not make this movie any other way and achieve the same effect.
The acting's pretty solid, too. A lot better than you'd expect from first-time filmmakers.
One More Thing About the Found Footage Stuff
The movie opens as if you're watching a "making of" documentary about Derek and Clif. There's visuals and animations and other moments of polish that are in no way staples of found footage.
About twenty minutes into the movie, all of that stuff is completely gone and there's never any explanation as to why. It just goes into traditional found footage back-and-forth.
Then about another twenty minutes in, the movie just becomes a movie that is filmed primarily from the perspective of Derek and Clif as they wear a camera strapped to their chest(s).
Some people might look at this and call it a flaw. I thought that, too. At first. But then I thought about it longer and I realized something: I don't really care that they switched it up. If anything, I'm glad.
I mentioned before that Lee and Prowse are smarter than the found footage genre, and this is a good example of how. They know that it's better to make an interesting movie than it is to make a consistent movie. It's a flaw only in the same sense that From Dusk Till Dawn was flawed by changing from a heist movie to a vampire movie in the middle.