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‘Afflicted’ puts some real teeth back into found footage horror

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Afflicted

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The found footage horror sub-genre too often leaves a lot to be desired. (“Devil’s Due”, anyone? http://exm.nr/1oxixCD) However, the new vampire movie “Afflicted” takes the ‘let’s film everything’ clichés and manages to do something fresh, funny and very scary with the most self-conscious way of shooting a horror movie. The movie opens today, April 4, in limited release. And it’s available on VOD as well.

“Afflicted” is the work of a clever two-man team who’ve been making films together since childhood. Clif Prowse and Derek Lee are the young Canadian filmmakers and they’re also the two leads in this accomplished horror movie. They avoid a lot of the more egregious errors of the sub-genre such as excessive shaky camera work, although there are still too many scenes with racking focus to remind us that it’s a ‘documentary’. Still, by and large, they manage something truly fresh in their filming technique, as well as their storytelling, at almost every turn.

It helps that this film starts with the premise of two friends blogging and filming about their travels through Europe. That justifies their camera toting, and talking to the camera. Clif and Derek play the two budding filmmakers (fictionalized versions of themselves) out to chronicle their trip and make it interactive by taking feedback and suggestions from their followers on what to do next. That feels real and it allows the self-consciousness of their journey to not ever seem so preposterous.

Derek also happens to have a brain disorder, which nicely infuses the film with dread from the very start. Nonetheless, most of the first 15 minutes of the movie are fast-moving, and amiable as they start their travelogue through Barcelona. They shoot and edit it with a great style and brevity rarely found in such handheld horror. Then one night, while bar hopping in Paris, Derek tells local girl Audrey (Baya Rehaz) about his malady and it convinces her to sleep with him. However, the next morning he awakens to find her gone and left with a bad bite out of his arm as a souvenir.

Clif tries to convince Derek that he should see a doctor but Derek thinks a hospital visit will shut down their travels due to his brain condition. And besides, he says he feels great and even runs up the sides of buildings to demonstrate his joie de vivre. Captured on the blog, Derek is a virtual Spider-man. He and Clif persevere on into Italy until Derek starts to get sick. He can’t keep food down, and his body and spirit start weakening. The duo figures out rather quickly that he’s become a vampire, and then the rest of the film becomes the quandary of what to do about it.

Prowse and Lee create some terrific set pieces from there that ring true, scary and quite witty. For starters, they change their documentary into a study of Derek’s new affliction. They film Derek’s attempts to find food including a morbid chase after a baby pig one night. And after a few run-ins with the Italian law while trying to score some blood bank nourishment for Lee, they find out that Interpol is after them through their web feed.

The two leads here act pretty smart throughout, and this horror film has a knowingness that’s as savvy as that of 2012’s “Chronicle” (http://imdb.to/1pZve4D). Derek quickly realizes that he’s a danger to everyone and attempts to blow his brains out, but since he’s now a vampire he finds he’s immune to gunshots and such. From there he retraces his steps back to Paris, desperately trying to find the French girl who changed him. Meanwhile, his condition escalates and he has great difficulty controlling the new batch of health problems he's acquired. Lee also continues to chronicle his saga throughout, filming his vacation turning into a death trip.

Unfortunately, the ending falls a bit flat, and I wish Lee and Rehaz had better dialogue to deliver in their final confrontation, but no matter, this film is a real success. And it's eminently worthy of its sequel so shrewdly set up during the closing credits. I just hope that CBS Films gives Prowse and Lee a better budget so they don't have to shoot in the handheld technique any longer. They deserve more because filmmaking is clearly in their blood.

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