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James Rocchi

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James Rocchi lives in Los Angeles, where he's a freelancer for The LA. Times, IndieWire, Cinephiled.com and other outlets.

Review: ‘Afflicted’

6.8

"Afflicted" is an exciting, adept and smartly skillful debut horror film.

Despite being ultimately more interesting for its filmmaking and low-budget zest than its narrative, “Afflicted” — directed by, written by and co-starring Derek Lee and Clif Prowse — may be a “found footage” horror movie, but at the same time it not only has a reason and rationale for that style decision but also wrings plenty of fun out of it as well. Derek and Cliff (fictionalized variations on the real crew/cast — note the two ‘f”s in “Cliff”) are lifelong friends who, in the tradition of the young and the impetuous, plan a European trip, and they’re going to post every video and discuss everything they do and share the trip with all their pals back home via the web. There’s a dark backstory to this sunshiny jaunt, though, in that Derek has a weakened set of veins in his brain that could let go — and kill him — at literally any moment. Cliff is eager to take the trip — he’s set up a website for their videos and other blogging, “The Ends of the Earth,” he’s gotten all their camera gear — but there’s a little mania and worry in the mix; how could there not be?

On an early stop in Paris to meet up with friends there already with their band’s tour, though, Derek’s attempt to, uh, make some young lady’s temporary acquaintance at the bar works out just fine … until his friends, hoping to burst in on him doing the deed, find him bloodied and dazed and alone on his bed, cuts and what looks like bites still fresh. Derek is confused and humiliated and doesn’t want to talk about it, even as the trip goes to Italy, where Derek finds that for whatever reason, he’s now better, stronger, faster — at one point punching a chunk out of a stone wall when Cliff tries to tell him that something odd deserving of medical attention is going on. Derek stands, nervously surveying the damage he’s caused: “Maybe I should … take anger management?”

But there’s a flipside to all of the gleefully-taped moments of metahuman ability Derek now demonstrates, and while the film never uses the v-word (much like “Near Dark” never uses it,) “Afflicted” could be boiled down to a variation on “An American Werewolf in London,” “A Canadian Vampire on YouTube.” And while we can pardon Derek and Cliff for how long this takes to figure out — and how long the film spends on seeming like a sideways riff on another found footage film, “Chronicle,” as new abilities are tested out while ramifications and revelations build — there is a little bit of a plotting problem as what’s happened becomes more and more apparent to us well ahead of our protagonists.

Derek and Cliff think they have to find his Parisian hook-up, Audrey (Baya Rehaz), as she might know the secrets and facts about Derek’s change. Along the way, Derek still keeps posting to his videoblog: “I’m going to keep documenting this … so perhaps some good can come of it …” It also helps make sure we have a movie to watch, and that movie is actually startlingly well-shot; the first-person, found-footage approach integrates nicely with the superb FX team to show us odd things happening on-camera in fake realtime, and they’re nicely-tuned to do so, whether fights, falls or fearsome attacks. And while, yes, there’s a lot of conveniently-dropped cameras here, left in just the right place to catch at least a glimpse of something horrible, the majority of the camerawork and cinematography not only maintains the storytelling device but actually generates more than a few scary moments out of seemingly casual camerawork and deliberate design, with kudos due cinematographer Norm Li and especially editor Greg Ng.

And while creators Prowse and Lee provide fine guidance behind the camera, they’re also agreeable and easy to watch as Cliff and Derek, portraying a convincing friendship and high-spirited fun before things go all the way wrong, and even a little bit after. It feels odd to fault an 85 minute film for having pacing issues, but, at the same time, there’s a plot decision here that made, I’m sure, for easier filming but also takes a lot of the fun and spark out of the film when it happens as early as it does. “Afflicted” is an exciting, adept and smartly skillful debut horror film, not only good enough for fans of the genre but also more than good enough to earn a sincere hope that the talented twosome of Lee and Prowse have a chance to make another film.


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