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Just a couple of guys living through a vampire story.

It’s popular for critics to declare that vampire films are no longer necessary, like the movie they just reviewed (usually a vampire movie, for obvious reasons) has such a defining spin on the attendant tropes that it just gets the last word. It’s a bit of critical hyperbole that is fun for two reasons, the first that it really gets the point across and the second that it is actually fun to refute the next time a vampire movie comes out and makes you say “wow”.

Afflicted is a vampire movie that ought to make you say “wow”. It is reminiscent of Chronicle, though more modestly scaled, and does for the idea of regular guys becoming vampires what that film did for the idea of regular kids getting superpowers. It’s in the “found footage” genre and uses that framing device to drive its plot and inform its fairly impressive special effects.

Though there are few characters, Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse carry the movie’s story by playing versions of themselves that go through all this earning sympathy, horror, and even envy from the audience. These guys are a couple of young, Canadian filmmakers who also wrote and directed the film.afflicted_1

At first seemingly amateurish, Lee’s performance keeps adding emotional layers.

The first 30 minutes of the film are a bit bumpy, like many other films in this genre. They take their time getting to “the good stuff” and quickly introduce the notion that Derek wants to travel because he has a tangle of blood vessels in his head (AVM) that could burst anytime and kill him. His loyalest friend is Cliff, a documentarian (true to life?) who wants to help Derek create a memorable and cathartic year-long round the world trip.

Early on, they encounter a woman in Paris who Derek hooks up with. Cliff and a couple of their other friends find Derek with strange wounds and the strangeness only ramps up from there. Alternating between body horror and the kind of “look what I can do!” experimentation also found in Chronicle, the film also takes its time settling on the obvious interpretation of Derek’s condition: he’s been made into a vampire.

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Lee is genuinely scary when he goes feral.

Besides the fact that the conceit is interesting enough on its own, Afflicted has the added benefit of building on it to create a very minimalist but enticing vampire lore of its own. Vampires cannot die, not by gunshot or stake, and they have to feed every 5 days or risk becoming mindless feeding machines. Derek hunts Audrey (Baya Rehaz), the French girl who infected him, in a search for the truth and perhaps a way to fix things.

The interesting thing about it is by the time he even gets close to her, Derek has done heinous things either because of loss of control or out of desperation to save himself. He clings to the fiction that finding Audrey will fix everything without ever admitting that all he really wants are answers. When he gets them, they are horrifying but also liberating in some sense. As she says, you can choose who you kill and that makes a difference.

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The movie has a nuanced and interesting take on the implications of vampirism.

Because Derek is so relatable, the movie evolves into a fresh and grounded take on what vampirism would be like for a normal guy. There’s the high off having superpowers, the moral reality of needing to kill, and so on. All this is channeled through Derek’s performance and the few answers he is able to find.

I’ve always wanted a movie that gives the An American Werewolf in London (or Paris) treatment to vampires. This movie is basically that and is obviously based entirely on that concept. You see a lot of vampire fiction where they are these remote beings, something abstract or supernatural to the point of occupying a moral and metaphysical space wholly apart. This is a huge part of the appeal of vampires in the first place, but Afflicted eschews the remove and reframes it as a truly gray state with real consequences in our world, both good and bad. It’s interesting that Audrey explains that being a vampire is a point of no return, that to kill is necessary if only because it keeps you from becoming worse, or accidentally making more like you.

Like I said, it’s a nice take on the idea even on the level of exploring the tropes of vampire fiction and the mythical figure of the vampire in itself. This movie isn’t especially deep, mind you, but it doesn’t just do found footage with familiar depictions of vampirism or vampires. It mixes and matches ideas and visual cues from a variety of sources, mixing Chronicle the American Werewolf movies, and so on into something that feels tangible enough to jump-start vampires as a subject, at least within its own terms and needs.

Between this and Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s like Twilight never even happened. Reminds me of the last couple years where filmmakers and writers have finally been allowed to at least try new shit with the zombie tropes and concepts (see: Warm Bodies, Deadgirl, World War Z) to varying results. If nothing else, movies that try fresh spins on old standbys at least demonstrate why those standbys seldom go away for long.

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