Love it or hate it, the 1999 found-footage thriller The Blair Witch Project opened up a Pandora's box in the horror genre. It proved a scary narrative seemingly cobbled together with raw amateur video footage could be, in the right skilled hands, an effective fright machine (see Blair Witch and the first Paranormal Activity). The parameters of production also happen to be friendly to the filmmaker working within the strictures of an extremely low budget.
Fifteen years after Blair Witch, the problem is that it's been done to death. With every new entry, whether an authentic low-budget indie or fully supported studio release such as the recent Devil's Due, it gets more and more difficult to hang with characters who never seem to know when to turn off their cameras and start running.
The Canadian-produced thriller Afflicted at least boasts a little more ingenuity than usual. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, doing triple duty as directors, writers and stars, offer up a credible jumping-off point. Derek, suffering from a potentially fatal brain malaise, is urged into a year-long world tour by his best friend Clif. Their trip will be duly recorded and posted online so Derek's concerned friends and family can keep tabs on him.
The trouble starts in Paris, when Derek succeeds in hooking up with a sexy French woman named Audrey (Baya Rehaz). It doesn't go as predicted. Derek is discovered unconscious and physically ravaged -- and not in a good way.
But after recovering from the apparent attack, Derek is... changed. He can run at speeds exceeding 60 km/h. He can break a marble slab with one punch. But his appetite gets alarmingly specific and his ability to enjoy sunny Italy takes a turn toward the nocturnal. Clif, fascinated by the changes in his good buddy Derek, starts to get frightened.
At its best, Afflicted boasts some surprising visual effects and stunt work not typically seen on the low end of the budget scale. The sheer ingenuity of the work can disarm those horror fans who show up wanting something new in the genre. Certainly, the film's European locales add a little extra value, especially since most found-footage movies tend to be shot in a single, humble location.
In the debit column, much of the movie is centred on Lee, and while he is a triple-hyphenate actor-writer-director, acting is apparently not his strongest suit. He's not bad, but the found-footage movie requires very good acting to keep audiences engaged, and the absence of that quality is keenly felt after, say, an hour into the exercise.
I think it may be time we had a break from the found-footage thriller. With current digital technology, it is possible for young filmmakers to attempt something closer to a classic narrative for little money.
No longer a tool for low-budget innovation, the found-footage film should now officially be considered a crutch.