Interview: Derek Lee and Clif Prowse talk Afflicted
They are a device and a topic with which movie fans are particularly familiar and fully briefed. Or maybe not.
“Clif said, ‘What if we do a vampire documentary?’ I brushed it off to being the stupidest idea I ever heard,” explained filmmaker Derek Lee, who happened to be sitting right next to the aforementioned Clif at the time. “But midsentence I had to stop myself. The more we talked about it, I thought that it would be really cool to bring vampires back to the stark, dark reality [Clif and I] thought they were and not like the super stylized, romanticized versions they are now in most pop culture.”
Canadian directors, writers, actors, and longtime collaborators and of course good friends Lee and Clif Prowse saw this ‘vamp-doc’ through to the end, as Afflicted debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and is now getting its wide release.
The found-footage style of shooting movies has pretty much crept into every genre now, and vampires certainly are being thrown on as many screens as possible. Lee and Prowse, however, stressed their understanding of the current state of cinema, and were confident and comfortable that while they may not be breaking barriers, they’re also not going to be trapped by overdone narratives.
“We weren’t pretending we were trying to come up with something completely original,” said Prowse. “The idea was to juxtapose two things we were very used to and hoping that the fusion of vampires and found footage gave us a fresh take.”
The two not only directed the bloody, gritty, and scary horror film, but starred in it too. Clif and Derek play, well, Clif and Derek, a pair of best friends embarking on a lengthy and highly-anticipated backpacking trek across Europe and the rest of the world. Being the 21st century, the twosome planned to document their exploits and adventures (in fact of more the more legitimate reasons for found-footage, with so many films concocting ridiculous conceits).
During one of the first nights out and about partying, however, Derek takes home the wrong girl, only to be found bloodied and beaten when his friends try to prank him.
Then things get dark and weird.
“Usually vampires are shown incredibly melodramatic: they’re the least realistic-feeling movies you have,” added Prowse. “We could take a look at something like vampires, and put a realistic lens on it, and make it feel more grounded in biology. What would be like if this actually happened in real life? That meant we could re-imagine the creature in that context, we thought that would be really exciting and fresh.”
Of course as first time feature filmmakers, Lee and Prowse were working on an incredibly low-budget (with an assistance from Telefilm Canada), and savoring every single dollar, shooting on location in Europe and using the framework of found footage to their advantage. Watching the film, though, you wouldn’t know they were hurting with cash.
“The only way to have it work was to have a small group, seven to ten people. It was movie camp in Europe,” said Lee.” We can’t really afford to build sets and do other bigger things; we need to go to places that naturally have production value in them.”
Amid some beautiful and haunting backdrops then comes a story about a young man’s descent into darkness as his body and instincts change, putting in jeopardy all those around him. There is one scene in particular about halfway through – you’ll know it when you see it – that is especially dark and disturbing, and doesn’t hide anything, and surely doesn’t seem the least bit fake or fabricated.
“That was the hardest scene,” said Derek when specifically asked about that moment (we’ll keep it nicely vague here so as not to spoil). “Primarily because it was in Italy in March, which was freezing, and I had my shirt off sitting on top of a mountain with no heat.” He goes on to mention he is wearing a giant prosthetic in a scene that utilizes a combination of special effects and visual effects.
“It was a dark moment for the character, but to get all of that done and done well with only a few takes, extremely challenging. It was one of the more rewarding moments for me as an actor.”
And because of the way it turned out, rewarding as filmmakers too, one would imagine.