2013 - 89 minutes
Directed by: Nicolas Lopez
Written by: Nicolas Lopez, Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo
Starring: Eli Roth, Nicolas Martinez, Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Natasha Yarovenko
"Aftershock" attempts to be a disaster film that’s more about the horrors of a fragile humanity than the damage caused by Mother Nature. It could be terrifying to be confronted with a disastrous earthquake while in an unfamiliar place, even more so while being disoriented and then dealing with unsavory types seizing the opportunity that comes with tragedy.
This sounds like an interesting premise if done well, but unfortunately this film roots its drama at surface-level situations and doesn’t have any jarring effect. If there were a Richter scale to measure dramatic involvement and entertainment value, "Aftershock" would barely register.
We open with three friends touring and having a good time in Santiago, Chile, who – aside from the fact that one is American and the other two Chilean – can be told apart based on their stage of beard growth. Gringo, the American, has two-day stubble; Ariel has the hipster scruff, and Pollo has the full Grizzly Adams (they are played by producer and co-writer Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, and Nicolas Martinez).
This may sound like a shallow way to define the characters, but we’re not given much else: Gringo is a kinda nerdy American, Ariel has an unseen ex-girlfriend who seems controlling, and Pollo is a wild rich kid. In a horror film victims often just ascribe to archetypal stereotypes, but it’s a problem here because Aftershock takes its time to get to the action, feigning interest in its characters as though we should care.
The trio eventually cozies up with three women that include estranged half-sisters Monica and Kylie (Andrea Osvart, Lorenza Izzo); with Monica taking on the unwanted role of Kylie’s sensible protector. And because there needs to be a pairing off of three couples, they have Russian friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko) for Gringo. Awkwardly shoehorned into this section of the film is a phone conversation with Gringo and his daughter for the sole purpose of him superficially connecting with Irina because she has a son (ain’t that cute?); and so he can plead with someone later on to not hurt him because he has a little girl.
Oh yeah, the earthquake. After the men convince the girls to accompany them to some party in a small Chilean town, the earthquake strikes while they are at an underground nightclub. All things considered, the actual quake is pretty tame – several seconds of shaking followed by a few falling items and breaking glass.
A harrowing trip out of the club in which one of the group is gravely injured leads them to the surface, where things have quickly descended into chaos, with looting, rioting, eerie tsunami sirens and helpful loudspeaker announcements warning that prison walls have crumbled and inmates are loose.
I had hoped at this point things would pick up, and though terrible things – shootings, burnings and despicable rapes – occur, it still all feels like it’s at arm’s length and is just happening to fill the time to the movie’s conclustion. We know in a film like this when we start with a group of 6 people, we will end up with a number significantly less than that, the trick is to make us care and/or at least entertain us isn the way it happens.
An interesting concept for the second half of the film, which plays almost like a slasher genre where instead of a guy in a mask stalking teenagers we have the dark side of human nature attacking the victims. The demise of the characters is equally as shallow as their setup, however, and it feels like there is a checklist to go through.
When we’re down to the final few there is a twist that is so unnecessary and only exists for the sake of existing and once again serve as a mostly empty analysis of humanity that is presented as if it were some deep revelation. With all of the potential to shake us to the core, "Aftershock" only manages the most benign of tremors.
© 2013 by Blake Crane