Where Does Aftershock Hit on the Richter Scale?

I’ve dually noted in the past that Eli Roth is a director I regard as one I’d like to hear speak at a convention or at a meeting rather than someone whose film I’d watch and review. He seems to have genuine respect for the horror genre, but has a very awkward, difficult way of showing it. His films often feature large amounts of gory violence, identifiable xenophobia, redundant situations, cardboard characters, and facile plots. They’re the kind of horror film where you watch, wince, and then walk away undisturbed.

Now comes Aftershock, a film where Roth’s credentials lie everywhere but in the director’s section, which is occupied by Nicolás López. Aftershock, which now is playing in very limited release and on various video on demand outlets, concerns three buds (Eli Roth, Nicolas Martinez, and Ariel Levy) who spend their vacation-days clubbing in Chile when an enormous earthquake hits destroying much of the infrastructures. It also destroys all civil behavior, as the three men, accompanied by three lovely ladies they meet, now must find ways to survive in times of true hell when they wander unprotected through the crowded and seriously ravaged streets of Chile.

Aftershock must immediately be given credit solely for its ambition, for it’s not everyday we see an unassuming independent picture take on the difficult task of being a disaster film. Disaster films are prominently released in theaters, by a director with a name like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, boasting millions in financial backing with special effects companies that can embellish the drop of a coin to serve as an event. An independent film, in this case, a film with about $10 million in financial costs, clearly doesn’t have the immense resources or backing that a mainstream picture would have. Just the idea that López chose to pursue an idea like Aftershock, when every conceivable odd is against the production warrants some resemblance of respect.

It’s just a shame, overall, that the picture is still the vague letdown that it is. It plays like Roth’s mediocre film Hostel, which was about a group of twenty-somethings that venture out to a foreign country and wind up becoming the victims to a sadist’s sick, brutal games. The first thirty minutes are plagued by tedious scenes of partying, equipped with spastic lighting, obnoxiously loud music that could be the direct blame for the earthquake, and an onslaught of flirting and attempts at pick-up. Then, finally, the earthquake occurs and we are then given roughly fifty minutes of surviving the lethal jungle of civilization lost.

In retrospect, and as bad as this could’ve been what with a relatively low budget, Aftershock is quite serviceable and occasionally impressive. As expected, however, we’re robbed of real characters (although Roth can be quite amusing at times playing a neurotic, lovesick geek) and any tension in the film’s screenplay. Roth has always been a “get to it” kinda guy, neglecting tactics of dread and suspense to tell a story. Working with co-writers Nicolàs López and Guillermo Amoedo, this kind of approach makes the film function but not entirely, seeing as this is the kind of story that could’ve greatly benefited from scenes of true terror and fright.

Good horror/disaster movies have unfortunately become novelties, but because of its lower budget, Aftershock possesses a kind sincerity and intimacy in its material that allows itself to be rewarded with recognition. The film moves along at a pace that isn’t sluggish nor lightning-fast, the action is rather clear, and it provides an anxious audience member with more or less of what they want in return from a film like this. Its ambition warrants likability but its execution includes disappointment.

Grade: C

Reviewed by Steve Pulaski
Want more Aftershock? Read a second review here.

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