★★ / ★★★★
Best friends Derek (Derek Lee) and Cliff (Clif Prowse) are going on a year-long trip around the world—trekking across six continents and over thirty countries—and the plan is to document their travel and broadcast it over the internet. The duo are having the best time of their lives until Cliff, along two other friends from back home they met up with, finds Derek sprawled on the hotel bed—unconscious and bloody. Derek appears to be all right. That is, until he starts to exhibit bizarre symptoms like photosensitivity and previously untapped superhuman strength.
Written and directed by Lee and Prowse, “Afflicted” is one of the more creative found footage films. To my relief, it does not involve exorcisms or ghosts or demons. It grabs our curiosity and does not let go until it reaches the severe miscalculation that is the second half. If the writer-directors had decided to shroud the mystery beyond the three-quarters mark, it might have been a more rewarding experience.
When it comes to horror-related stories, what I look for is an effective build-up. Here, it starts off with a lot of positive emotions like excitement and a joy for life and then, slowly, we come to understand the dangers of two young friends traveling across the world, especially when one of them ends up sick. And it may not even be any ordinary ailment. I enjoyed the transition from a celebratory mood to a territory of fear and uncertainty. I believed that Cliff and Derek are friends whose luck had run out.
The picture is at its weakest when it feels it must adhere to sub-genre conventions which plagued the second half. For example, there are about half a dozen scenes that take place in the dark and the camera must shake relentlessly when something supposedly scary pops out in the corner. It comes off gimmicky at times, especially when droplets of blood end up on the lens of the camera. Such a technique—and others like it—neither enhances the experience nor makes the images more interesting. Instead, it makes it more difficult to see the already murky images.
It offers some neat special and visual effects. Images that involve burning of the skin as if concentrated acid were applied on it are especially gross and traumatizing. Josh Trank’s “Chronicle” is an obvious inspiration given how highly amused and curious the protagonists end up becoming once Derek begins to have special abilities. “How does it feel like to be a superhero?” asks Cliff. Meanwhile, the world is watching.
I wished the picture had less self-imposed limitations. It might have benefited the film greatly if family, friends, and strangers who follow their journey are shown reacting to the posted video blogs. This way, the mystery, horror, and humor become more balanced which gives the material a chance to feel more unpredictable. Another reason why the latter half is so weak is because it is often one-note.
I have a slight affection for “Afflicted” because the potential of a fun premise is there and it strives to go beyond what is expected of found footage flicks. When it works, it engages the viewers fully; when it falls flat, one wishes to skip the embarrassment and get to the good parts. Thus, it is most disappointing that it does not deliver all the way.