As an East Coaster I don’t think much about earthquakes but after watching ‘Aftershock‘ – the low budget tectonic exploitation picture from director Nicolas Lopez and producer/co-writer/co-star Eli Roth – I now have something else to be worried about.
‘Aftershock’ seems content to not be a game changer. By coloring within the lines it is an effective midnight movie, working best when it is simply pushing the story forward, letting the nightmare of the situation stay front and center. There isn’t much in the way of scares but the gross-outs are plentiful and the overall sensation of dread is well delivered.
We open with three friends in Santiago, Chile. Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) is a wealthy club hopper, Ariel (Ariel Levy) is his best bud and Ariel’s chum from the US, Gringo (Eli Roth) plays the dorky dresser incapable of hooking up with the local ladies. At first glance it would appear that we’re in for some cruel and unusual debauchery, what with the associations to the boys from Roth’s ‘Hostel’ and the fact that Pollo has a Galifianakis look, but really they’re just some . . .regular people. They have a few drinks, they dance, they speak a little lewdly amongst themselves (there’s a recurring gag about seeing the world as if it were the screen of your smartphone) but, by and large, even with Pollo’s privilege, they aren’t mean spirited.
They meet up with some ladies, a barely legal rich American and a Hungarian woman hired by her father to keep an eye on her. (That the Hungarian is quick to get nervous and pop anti-anxiety pills and in turn isn’t the best person to keep a ward on a leash in a foreign country, isn’t addressed.) The gang visits Valparaiso, see the sights, take photos and, I dunno, just kinda hang out. It’s odd, because a full 30 of the 90 minutes of the film is spent just watching these people be on vacation. Roth is hardly the Bear Jew from ‘Inglourious Basterds’ here. He’s a just a nice guy who wants a some photos with his friends.
At the dance club that night, amidst some in-group tension, is when the earthquake hits. The rumble itself is quick, but the crushed bones, stampedes and screams linger. Intense gore-hounds won’t be phased but most reasonable people will be grossed out. It’s an uncomfortable sequence, one that made me question why the hell I was watching people writhe in agony and shriek in terror.
Ariel helps out a trapped woman and, in doing so, he loses his hand. It’s the first instance of ‘Aftershock”s best aspect – the follow-through of the nightmare version of bad decisions. This is something that’s always been a strength in Roth’s screenplays – like falling into a lake of grotesque bodies in ‘Cabin Fever’ or not cutting away when an eyeball is detached in ‘Hostel.’
Strangely, this moment is followed up by one of two big horror/comedy “Woah!” reactions. Both work well (and midnight audiences will have fun) but for me they seemed very much out of sync with the brutality and panic in the rest of the film.
When the quake liberates a band of rapey prisoners ‘Aftershock’ segues into direct survival horror. With the locals hiding in their locked homes, the emptiness of the streets evoke more than a few bad dreams I’ve had. In most movies a disaster strikes and you cut directly to the first responders. Real life, as my sleeping subconscious has known for quite some time, isn’t like this.
‘Aftershock,’ as I mentioned, doesn’t provide any new spin on the genre. I don’t see it ever being a breakout hit, but for late nights and gatherings it more than serves its purpose. And, assuming there are no natural disasters, Valparaiso looks like a fun place to go with friends.‘Aftershock’ premiered at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.