In an era where good horror movies are only slightly better than the bad ones, a Canadian flavored offering called Afflicted manages to be a gripping 85 minute exercise in taking some tired old tropes and goosing them to new life.
Written and directed by it's two stars, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, it starts with two friends embarking on a trip around the world. Derek is suffering from a brain malady, so he wants to travel before it's too late. Clif, meanwhile, is recording the trip for an Internet travel blog, which means he'll be carrying a camera for the entire movie and we'll get the standard "found footage" gimmick that, for my tastes, has been overplayed for a decade. While in Paris, Derek meets a woman in a bar who comes back to his hotel, only to leave him unconscious with terrible gashes on his body. For the next several days he's listless and ill. Eventually, after several bouts of vomiting and convulsions, Derek not only kicks his illness but develops super human strength. We see him punching holes in walls, and running at an impossible speed. Derek, you see, is turning into a vampire. The second half of the story involves Derek dealing with his new-found thirst for blood, and trying to locate the woman who infected him.
The film isn't especially clever, and the found footage gimmick is just as bothersome as ever, but it's energetic and surprisingly watchable. It's also nice to see a vampire who isn't a miserable metrosexual character designed to appeal to middle school girls. Derek is rather nasty, growling like a beast when he's thirsty, and ruthlessly tearing up his prey. Derek Lee is very effecting as this unfortunate tourist who comes down with vampirism. I liked how he seemed scared and vulnerable, even though he'd morphed into a sort of super vampire. The climactic meeting between Derek and the woman who infected him is a bit of a letdown, but not even a hokey, Matrix-style fight in an abandoned warehouse can spoil an otherwise smart, engaging horror saga.
Alien Abduction also relies on the found footage gimmick, and while it's less successful at transcending this tired style, it has a few genuinely creepy scenes.
The footage of this particular title is said to be "leaked" from the U.S. Air Force, whose creation of Project Blue Book in 1952 helped form the paranoid atmosphere around the Brown Mountain Lights, an unexplained phenomenon in North Carolina where balls of light appear in the sky. The movie follows a family on a camping vacation in the Brown Mountains. The youngest boy of the clan is the one carrying the camera - it's explained that he's autistic and needs the camera like a security blanket. He seems to be a bright boy, studying butterflies and bugs, his small, shy voice occasionally heard from behind the camera. He's the only likable one in the family, for the curse of these found footage films, even dating back to The Blair Witch Project, is that people tend portray themselves as petty and annoying. It's fascinating to me that when a director tells his cast to act like normal, everyday people, they resort to bickering, snottiness, and a kind of pouting arrogance. (Afflicted, which I liked, was also guilty of this.) Fortunately, in most cases these scenes don't last long, and within 12 minutes or so we get to the meat of the movie. Unfortunately, it's a poor way to get us to like these characters.
The family - dad, mom, two sons and a daughter - bicker as dad drives around in circles, unable to figure out the backroads of this mountain. They eventually come up against a roadblock made of abandoned cars, the drivers of which look to have been yanked right out of their shoes. Some of the cars still have their headlights on, the road is littered with dead birds, and, well, something tells us this isn't going to be a regular vacation. A strange, almost human form is seen standing at the end of the road, but he looks alien enough to end them all screaming for help. They find themselves hiding out in the shack of a local hillbilly, who happens to own enough firearms to ward off most alien attackers. He owns a banjo, too, which is quite a coincidence since the mom was making stupid Deliverance jokes just a few minutes earlier...
There are some good touches in the film, such as a moment where the boy plays with some bugs, which is a nice way to counterpoint what the invaders may plan for his family. Director Matty Beckerman also deserves some credit for not showing us too much. Like Val Lewton, Beckerman understands that less is more in horror, especially when you're on a budget.