Afflicted (2013)

*. Let’s start off with the good news. This is a great looking movie, especially given its micro-budget (around $300,000) and small crew (7).
*. Why do I say it looks great? In the first place, the European locations, especially the Italian ones, are very nice. Just the view from that restaurant makes me want to grab my passport. Second, and more important, the effects, given the limitations they were working under, are pretty darn amazing.
*. This isn’t to say that there are a lot of eye-popping, amazing visuals, but that the effects throughout the film are very professionally done, seamlessly blending CGI with camera tricks, stunt work, and practical effects to create an entirely convincing supernatural mise-en-scène.
*. There were quite a few points in the film where I caught myself wondering, sometimes out loud, exactly how they’d managed to pull something off. They did a great job, for example, with Derek’s super speed, making us believe that he’s really outrunning a motorcycle without just speeding up his movement. At other times I was surprised, when listening to the commentary track, to find out that a particular shot wasn’t done the way I thought it was. That boulder that Derek breaks was actually CGI! Then there were all the jumps and Derek climbing up the buildings. That really impressed me. Some of the cable work must have been a lot of fun.
*. Even when I knew how something was being done I was still impressed by how nicely the effect was achieved. A lot, for example, was done through hiding cuts in quick pans — “a very low-fi technique that works extremely well,” as is said on the commentary. The key here is making the cuts invisible, and they pull that off wonderfully. Even knowing (roughly) where a cut was, I was often unable to make them out.
*. So that’s all to the good. For an action-horror movie, Afflicted looks as good as some movies with ten times the budget. Now, as for the rest of it . . .
*. The acting isn’t too bad. It was a first feature put together without professional actors. The two leads (and writer-directors), Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, play the characters of the same names, and their friends, family, and some obliging locals make up the rest of the cast. Nobody seems too uncomfortable, but at the same time nobody really owns the screen.
*. The script is a big letdown though. I say this for two reasons. First off, there’s the basic, tried-and-true hybrid concept. In this case: found-footage (or shaky-cam) meets vampire film. Had this ever been done before? I’m not sure, but if you want I guess you can say it’s a new twist.
*. Unfortunately, it’s a hybrid and not a synthesis. What I mean is that nothing new comes out of the process of putting the two genres together. There’s nothing new about it as a vampire movie but for the fact that it’s done in documentary mode. There’s nothing new about it as a found-footage film but for the fact that it has vampires in it. Which makes it all rather predictable.

*. Another problem with the script is the odd way it gets rid of the character of Clif halfway through, effectively breaking the film in two. This isn’t too disappointing, as his character wasn’t very interesting and wasn’t traveling any kind of arc, but it makes all of the time spent with him in the first part of the movie seem kind of pointless in the end.
*. The only point in giving us so much back story is that it helps to make some sense of Clif’s supererogatory sense of duty. Even after filling us in, however, I found this part of the movie totally unbelievable. On the commentary Clif says he thinks his character’s behaviour was “natural.” Not where I live. It just made no sense for Clif not to try and get Derek to a hospital once he’s clearly gone the route of full transformation. Clif’s not helping, he’s enabling, in a way that’s a clear and present danger to himself, to Derek, and to innocent bystanders. Not to mention the fact that Derek is turning into a fucking vampire.
*. Apparently the project was originally conceived as a web serial, which may explain some of the awkwardness in terms of structure. There are other points, however, that are just murky. A good example is the character of Maurice. I couldn’t figure out who this guy was or what his relationship was to Audrey when I first saw the movie. The notes I made at the time suggested that he might be something like the old guy in Let the Right One In. Listening to the commentary this assumption was confirmed. This is kind of weird, since (a) the character in Let the Right One In was kind of hard to figure out too, unless you’d read the novel, and (b) what you have here is a character who is based on a character in another movie, which if you haven’t seen you’re not going to understand at all.
*. So . . . not a bad little movie. Impressive even in some respects. But it plays a little too formulaic, which is to say safe. It seems to me that a couple of young filmmakers might have tried to do something more subversive out of the gate. But I guess for a calling card the main thing you want to do is show that you can handle commercial work, presumably in the hope that this will open some doors down the road. That’s smart, but safe. And I’m not blaming them a bit for it.

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