Everybody’s got that one friend who is so close and true that no matter what adversity you face, they’ll be the one to stick by you throughout it all. On that same note, nothing quite tests a friendship as severe personal transformation. We’ve all seen it happen; one friend gets married, or has a religious conversion, or develops a drinking problem, or has a life-altering medical situation. How the bonds of friendship break, fray or endure through such trials is at the heart of a found footage horror movie called Afflicted. And so too is the extended transformation process when one is turned into a monster, and can’t possibly understand what is really happening to them until it is too late.
The story involves Clif and Derek, two lifelong friends who decide to travel the world together after Derek discovers he has an untreatable brain condition that could suddenly kill him at any moment. The two turn their trip into a web series, and film themselves extensively to their audience as they gear up to go. Early in their journey, they hit Paris to meet some old buddies and party in the City of Lights. Derek hooks up with a beautiful woman named Audrey but the night goes sideways when Clif decides to interrupt Derek and Audrey mid-coitus as a prank…only to find that that Audrey has vanishes and Derek has been badly bitten and clawed. Things will only get weirder for Clif and Derek from there, as Derek recovers from his injuries faster than expected and begins to burn severely when exposed to sunlight, cannot digest regular food, exhibits super strength, and develops a need to drink blood. And not just any blood. Only human blood will do. And as Derek’s early attempts to stay fed go less successfully than planned, he learns pretty quickly that when you’re a vampire, there does come a point when your hunger will control everything. Vampire stories make such handy metaphors for addiction for a reason, after all.
One of the things that makes this movie work so well is that Clif and Derek have genuine chemistry. These two banter and riff off of each other in the way that only real friends can, and this is especially important for a found footage movie, where the less staged things feel, the more successful the end product will be. Derek’s slide into vampirism is slow and difficult, and along the way, we see how much suffering he goes through—both because of what his body undergoes, but also because he tends to learn by mistake—and we also see that Clif is right there with him. Of course, this being a found footage movie, we need an excuse for the camera to be running, and Clif is it. But here, the pretense of a self-made web program is merely the reason why Clif has a camera at all. Because his friend is undergoing something terrifying and monstrous and scary is why he uses the camera at all. Clif knows they’re both in undiscovered country, and he films Derek to better understand what his friend is going through, so he can give Derek whatever help he might need.
Clif’s dedication to Derek is genuine, and one imagines that had Clif been bitten, Derek would have been just as steadfast as his friend’s stomach rejects solid food, his friend’s eyes grow over the contacts they have on, and his friend’s skin blisters and peels in the daylight. We really understand why these guys are sticking this out together when the smart move would be for Clif to get the hell out of there and leave Derek to his own devices. Because when you’re a developing vampire, and you become overwhelmed with the need for food, and you’ve got a walking bloodbag working a camera just a few feet from you all the time, there’s a limited number of ways that kind of situation can play out. By the time we get to that point, we are invested enough in both Derek and Clif that we really don’t enjoy seeing Derek suffer, and we really don’t want to see Clif get hurt. We cannot have both, however, and we do not get it. But you already knew that. From the moment Derek sprouts teeth, you know that Clif is on the menu. Clif knows it, too. And even then, he will not abandon him. That is a friend for you. However things turn out, we know that somehow, this friendship is going to end, and that might be the biggest tragedy of all here.
There comes a point when Derek tries to take an easy way out of this situation, and learns the (very) hard way that when one becomes a vampire, there are no easy solutions to anything anymore. Needing to understand why he was chosen for this, he seeks out Audrey, the woman who bit him, and whom Derek assumes must be a vampire also. That search yields results for Derek that are both unanticipated and incredibly dangerous, and by the time he gets the closest thing to an answer to his many questions, he learns in a moment of truth that even though vampires are predators, and even though they are monsters, and even though they are a form of suffering made flesh, that doesn’t mean they cannot still have a sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, of kindness and cruelty. Life is an ecosystem, and despite its difficulties, being one of its apex predators is a whole lot better than being part of a species that doesn’t even understand that it is prey.