(Canada/USA, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Starring: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Vampire movies and found footage films might be two of the most tired offerings on the current film scene. Put them together to make a found footage vampire movie and the result doesn't play like fresh revisionism. It still feels tired.
Said found footage vampire flick is Afflicted. Afflicted, one of the buzziest Canadian titles from last year's Toronto International Film Festival (it earned a special citation from the Canuck jury), is one of the better technical achievements of late as far as bloodsuckers and mockumentaries are concerned, but it's almost impossible to give the film a plausible recommendation even if one overlooks considerable shortcomings. It's a phenomenally assembled film, yet the generic malaise of Afflicted is hardly one of its chief defects. There are just so many fatal holes in this film that it as if Dracula himself sank his fangs into it and drained away the life.
The premise, for one, is utterly ridiculous and the execution never really convinces. Writers/directors Derek Lee and Clif Prowse star as variations of themselves as they go on a trip around the world and document every step of their adventure. The trip hits a bump when Derek picks up an exotic lady of the night (Baya Rehaz) at a bar, and Clif and company return to their hotel to find Derek unconscious with a gaping bite mark on his body. Derek, despite spending a considerable bit of the introductory number outlining his potentially life-threatening brain condition, opts to skip a hospital trip and implores the team to keep on trucking. Clif, on the other hand, pleads that Derek seek medical attention and them nags him at every turn.
Then strange things start to happen in a series of daily video diaries that see Derek self-combust, remove his eyes, and doing all sorts of crazy Exorcist vomiting. Clif, instead of being concerned, diagnoses Derek as a vampire. How on earth Doctor Clif makes this interpretive leap is never clear—nor is it credible—and Afflicted becomes increasingly loony as Clif becomes Derek's enabler and eggs him on to do all sorts of silly vampire tests that he can record and put on their travel blog. Vampirism leaves a trail of victims and the evidence of it is freely available for the cops to see on Clif’s blog. There just isn't a single turn in Afflicted that doesn't feel false, forced, and ludicrously illogical.
It's in this regard that the found footage/mockumentary premise/form makes Afflicted a noble misfire. DP Nino Li constructs the style capably to maintain a documentary aesthetic, although the POV cams rigged onto Clif and Derek give Afflicted a reality show vibe and frequently undercut the tension of the horror elements. Whereas found footage films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, etc. use the style to raise questions of the reality of the sinister and the supernatural, the form of Afflicted highlights the contrivance of the film. Who on earth assembled the found footage into a slickly assembled/Amazing Race-ish feature is never made clear. It makes even less sense that all Derek and Clif’s friends are watching the diaries and never leave comments on the videos along the line of, “Fuck, dude, you're a vampire!”
Afflicted actually does the vampire thing fairly well as far as toothy menace goes. It's old school vampirism with Clif rhyming off the symptoms of being a night crawler as Derek morphs before the camera. Lee does a sensational job covering the physical turns of his character as he contorts his body into a myriad of everything postures. He is less successful, though, with the confessional moments in which a fearful Derek voices his crumbling psyche. Clif, on the other hand, spends much of his screentime mugging at the camera, but he thankfully spends much of the film holding the camera. The performances don't really do the form of the film any favours.
Afflicted might have been a decent vampire pic without the mockumentary conventions. Derek's metamorphosis is rooted in old school vampirism: his powers and insatiable thirst, for example, are aspects of the creature that have strayed in the days of Twilight, but Clif's incessant documenting of Derek’s symptoms plays everything out a little too on the nose to be creepy or entertaining. (The film is also awfully long even at 85 minutes.) There is also the grating question that underlies the logic of why Clif would stay in the hotel with Derek when his friend so obviously wants to eat him. An absence of logic, it seems, is the legacy of contemporary vampire flicks.
Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)
Afflicted is currently playing in limited release.