“AFFLICTED” (TIFF Movie Review)
Each year, TIFF’s Midnight Madness program provides a home for hungry genre buffs where blood is spilled for adoring crowds to squeal in delight. Pretty well all of the iconic horror directors of the last 20 years have premiered at least one of their features as part of the program, but the finest treat is probably the discovery of new filmmakers bursting onto the scene. This year, the big breakout just might be for first-time Vancouver filmmakers Cliff Prowse and Derek Lee. The duo made the leap from shorts to features with AFFLICTED, their impressive new schlocker that manages to wring a little extra life out of the tiresome found footage genre and even a classic creature as well.
The film kicks off with Derek and Cliff (the filmmakers play loose versions of themselves) embarking on a long delayed Eurotrip designed to cram in as much booze and sightseeing as possible. Derek recently learned he has a fatal brain condition that prompts the trip, and budding director Cliff has brought along a cornucopia of prosumer camera equipment to turn it all into the most, like, totally awesome travel blog ever. One catch though, on the first stop of the trip Derek hooks up with a lady and when Cliff attempts to break in on the fun for an on-camera prank, he finds his buddy passed out on the floor and scarred by some gnarly wounds. Whatever happened in that hotel room leaves Derek an absolute wreck and the film transforms into a disgusting work of body horror before transitioning into a supernatural chiller that can’t be spoiled in good conscience here. The turn is inevitable, but since few have seen the flick yet, it seems unfair to spill the bloody beans.
Prowse and Lee’s debut nimbly mixes classic horror tropes with contemporary filmmaking ingenuity and clever humor so effectively that it’s not blasphemous to call it An American Werewolf in the iPhone era. With a strap-on camera written into their script, the duo pull off some absolutely astounding single take set pieces that rival anything found in Hollywood found footage blockbusters like CLOVERFIELD or CHRONICLE. Mixing lo-fi style with high-end pay offs, the film is filled with smarts, thrills and goopy gags sure to garner applause, praise, and dry heaves whenever screened. These are two filmmakers who know their genre well and have a mountain of good ideas developed that they excitedly slather all over the screen.
Like most debuts, AFFLICTED is flawed. However, the problems—a few too many “we gotta keep filming”clichés here, a couple of stilted supporting performances there—are easily dismissed whenever the duo hit on something fresh, and their charming film is packed with memorable success. As writers, directors, and even actors the duo show incredible promise and their film works so well that it’s hard to believe they won’t get a chance to deliver on such soon. The only problem is that a debut this strong and sure to win over genre fans’ bleeding hearts could be hard to top. Based purely on AFFLICTED, it’ll be exciting to see them try.