“Afflicted is a good little horror film. It’s smart and a lot of fun.“
When Jason Lee (played by Afflicted’s writer-director Jason Lee) discovers he has a life-threatening brain aneurysm, he decides it’s time to live his dream of making a year-long trip around the world. Accompanying him to chronicle the journey is his bosom buddy, film-maker Clif Prowse (played by Afflicted’s other writer-director – Clif Prowse), complete with digital camcorders, editing equipment and a laptop to upload the work-in-progress to the internet as a kind of almost-live documentary.
The two friends first journey to the bright lights of Barcelona and then on to the bars of Paris, where Jason meets a French girl called Audrey (Rehaz.) The two rapidly hit it off and make for Jason’s hotel, but when Clif gets there he finds Audrey gone and Jason semi-conscious, bleeding from a bite wound on his arm. Although woozy, Jason refuses to go to hospital, afraid of their trip being cut short.
The two friends move on to Italy and what should be an idyllic spell at Spezia on the Mediterranean coast, but the bite is taking effect. Jason passes out in his hotel room, and when he wakes he begins acting strangely. He can’t keep food down and sunlight starts to badly burn his skin, but he’s gaining abnormal strength, agility and speed.
You’ve probably already guessed where this is going. You’d be completely right. Jason starts to crave blood and the combination of desperation and strength make him increasingly dangerous. The hunger causes outbreaks of feral behaviour, putting the authorities on their trail. Clif’s desperate attempts to keep Jason under control end in tragedy and finally Jason sets off for Paris, determined to track down Audrey and find a way to return him to normality.
The film relies first and foremost on its performances, and in that it’s very well served. You believe in the friendship between the two leads completely, and the lengths Clif will go to to help his friend. Lee, ultimately, has to carry the film, in a scary but sympathetic depiction of a man becoming a monster. The vampire’s bite doesn’t change his personality per se, but his physical transformation forces him to discover reserves of ruthlessness and violence within. Prowse, although gentle and timid, is unwavering in his dedication to his friend’s welfare.
Afflicted is a clever and original take on the found-footage film. Like Elliott Goldner’s The Borderlands, it liberates the sub-genre from the shackles of the dreaded shaky-cam. Starting out as a slick, hip, funny and smart little documentary which quickly grows darker and more sober in tone as the sunlit ocean and green hills of Spezia give way to an evermore claustrophobic succession of darkened rooms and abandoned buildings. It also manages to give the vampire genre a new and classy spin, which can’t be bad.
However, there are a couple of flaws: Jason’s antics bring Interpol down on them, but it’s a surprise the cops take as long as they do to show up. Given that the two of them spend large chunks of time wandering about Spezia by night, yelling at one another and (in Jason’s case) leaping from the street onto the roofs of buildings – to say nothing of trashing blood banks and attacking ambulances – it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have attracted far more attention a lot earlier. But it’s a minor quibble.
The other problem is a perennial one for found-footage films: there comes a point where the last thing on the minds of any surviving characters is going to be filming what’s going on, but the film has to continue. When Afflicted reaches that point, the motivation for carrying on doesn’t ring particularly true – it’s one of the few times the dialogue has a hackneyed and unconvincing note – but it carries on past it at such a rattling pace, and unfolds the film’s final act with such aplomb that you don’t mind.
All told, Afflicted is a good little horror film. It’s smart and a lot of fun, with some highly effective ‘jump’ moments, thrown in with great action scenes and enough emotional depth to keep it grounded. As a new breed of vampire movie, it’s no Stake Land, but it’s definitely worth a look.
Director: Jason Lee and Clif Prowse
Starring: Jason Lee, Clif Prowse, Baya Rehaz
Running time: 85 mins
DVD release date: 6 October 2014