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AFFLICTED (2013). Best Friends Derek and Clif set out on a trip of lifetime. Their plan - travel to the ends of the earth, see the world, and live life to the fullest. But the trip soon takes a dark and bloody turn.

eOne Still of Derek Lee in Afflicted (2013)

2 out of 4 stars

Written by
Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Directed by
Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Starring
Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Classification
14A
Country
Canada
Language
English
Year
2014

It's been 15 years since a trio of student filmmakers went looking for trouble and found it in The Blair Witch Project, and the found-footage horror genre is here to stay. Way back in 1999, the idea of a making a horror movie look as realistic as possible was novel, not to mention predictive of the self(ie)–reflexivity of so much 21st century image-making. Viewed now, the scariest thing about The Blair Witch Project is the size of the cameras Heather and the gang are lugging around the backwoods of Maryland – the movie was a game changer, but the technology it showcases is a relic.

The increased capabilities and agility of consumer-grade camcorders get a workout in Afflicted, a new Canadian feature that is the latest (and far from the greatest) Blair Witch descendant, although an equally apt point of reference would be John Landis's 1981 late-night classic An American Werewolf in London. In that film, two Yankee pals travel to Europe for some primo male bonding only to see their trip marred by a sudden, inexplicable act of violence that leaves one of them irrevocably (and supernaturally) altered. In updating this tale for their debut feature, co-writers-directors-stars Derek Lee and Clif Prowse have shifted the scene from England to Spain and switched out lycanthropy for a trendier form of monstrosity.

It's not really a spoiler alert to say that a bloody run-in between Derek (Lee, ostensibly playing himself) and the beautiful young woman he meets in Barcelona proves transformational in a way that most one-night stands don't. Diagnosed with a potentially devastating illness before the beginning of his trip, Derek unexpectedly finds himself feeling in the pink in the days after his encounter. And then some: playing happily to his pal Clif's (Prowse) video camera, Derek assumes the role of human guinea pig for a series of highly physical experiments that hint at enhanced strength and speed. It's exciting – but it's also ominous.

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Afflicted is superbly shot in the sense that its camera perspectives always seem to be authentically first-person, and it also does some clever things to combat the problem inherent to so many found-footage thrillers: namely, why the characters keep filming events long after they've turned definitively freaky. But it also runs smack into a number of generic clichés, from the back-and-forth bickering about how to deal with the situation to a lazy underlying misogyny (the girl who infects Derek is the only female character of any significance).

It also gradually becomes clear that Prowse and Lee have conceived the movie as a showcase for their technical talent more than anything else, and, just as Derek keeps changing in grotesque ways, so too does Afflicted mutate from a mere movie to a series of self-consciously virtuosic set pieces, as if the directors are auditioning for a bigger-budget production. The gradual ramping up of both the camera calisthenics and the gore quotient suggests a movie that's been very deliberately paced, but that doesn't mean that Afflicted really gets anywhere, except back to the very basics its state-of-the-art presentation is supposed to transcend.

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