A to Z Horror: Afflicted (2014), directed by Cliff Browse & Derek Lee

For the most part, video stores are dead, save for a handful around the world (read Kate Hagen’s excellent and extensive piece for an idea). Luckily, I work at Best Video, one of the last remaining vestiges to the golden days of renting, where streaming meant perusing shelves in hope of finding the last copy of whatever your parents wouldn’t let you catch in theaters. Each and every day I stock the same old shelves so those out there looking to romanticize renting can do so, often finding myself absently surfing the horror section; a 1,000 film wall that hides some of the genres greatest (and worst) contributions.

So I decided to take on the task, a journey if you will, of combing through every single title within the horror genre at work, A to Z. This is that journey, and as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand films begins with a single scream…

Oh, and follow #AtoZhorror on Instagram and Twitter @reelbrew for every terrifying pit-stop! Enjoy!

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A: Afflicted (2013), directed by Cliff Owens and Derek Lee

Captured. On Film.

Discussing how overused the genre of found footage is would be a redundant and regressive conversation. Yes, its been done dozens of times since The Blair Witch Project [’99] proved how willing we were to subject ourselves to the handheld messiness of it all, but when done right, it can be an effective choice that turns an unassuming scene into an experience. Darlings of the genre such as REC [’07], Cloverfield [’08] and I’ll just say it, The Taking of Deborah Logan [’14] – an under-discussed and terrifying addition – take premises that have all been done countless times and immerse us in the characters often dire situation. Cinema is already a voyeuristic medium, and with found footage, that voyeurism is toyed with, forcing a participation on audiences that’s either embraced or rejected by the masses.

Afflicted, a travel journal turned action horror set-piece, finds Derek and Cliff (directors Derek Lee and Cliff Owens), two life-long friends who set out to document the trip of a lifetime. Derek, a once avid traveler, has found himself stuck behind a desk and stricken with AVM, an abnormality between the arteries and veins of the brain. Their trip, streamed live through state of the art cameras, takes a terminal turn when Derek is left bloody and bitten after a flirtatious rendezvous with a mysterious woman in Paris. Determined to continue his journey, Derek begins experiencing startling bodily changes, and must discover the cause of his affliction before it’s too late.

Presented in a make-documentary tone that’s flipped on its head, Afflicted relishes the found footage genre with an enthusiasm that makes it feel not new, but refreshing. It helps that its two leads are also its directors, who as characters set out to make the best out of their lives just as much as they as directors set out to make the best damn film they can. This is a passion project overlapping a passion project, and it creates a sense of splendor, even in the midst of impending dread, all captured on film.

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Afflicted‘s central camera is strapped to the chest of Cliff, who treats his friend like an expeditionist, freely following him through the streets of Spain and Paris. Once Derek begins succumbing to his sickness, which brings with it an assortment of powers – strength, speed, agility are all enhanced – Cliff’s camera is used to showcase these in an impressive feat of stylized action. Derek breaks stones, runs alongside a speeding car at 40 miles per hour and leaps tall structures, turning the film into the 1st act of a superhero film, where a like-Peter Parker flexes his newfound self. It’s impressively shot, and a sight to behold given how much of it feels real, yet it amounts to nothing more than a demonstration of found footage and its capabilities as an action medium; one Hardcore Henry [’16] would accentuate years later.

Every time Derek demonstrates his abilities, he inches closer to sickness, though hardly anything feels at risk, or even connected to the AVM that ultimately sets the film into motion. And like the disease, a threat that is known within the first act, the horror of Derek’s worsening condition and what he may become is never quite felt. Mostly because we understand it, and to an extent, understanding it is removing fear from it, and its horror never equates to anything more than cheap jump scares, with a scene of an unsavory suicide used to capture cheap shock (the films poster uses its aftermath has a centerpiece).

As we follow Derek in discovering the threat behind his affliction, the further we’re led away from the terror of his situation, which feels more and more like a Bourne film. Chases and fights switch POV to first person, and while any horror the genre had to offer is removed completely, we become engrossed in the wonders of its spectacle that mirrors the thrills presented in the opening of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days [’95]. Except where Bigelow crafted a daring and relevant science fiction thriller that touched a wide array of genres (action, suspense, giallo, romance), Afflicted too often hits one note, forgetting how genre defying found footage can be.

☕☕

Add Afflicted to your collection!

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