Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Nicolas Lopez
Writer: Nicolas Lopez, Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer: Eli Roth, Miguel Asensio Llamas, Brian Oliver
Stars: Eli Roth, Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Natasha Yarovenko, Nicolas Martinez, Lorenza Izzo
After a devastating earthquake, six Chilean nightclub-goers are forced to fight for their lives against violent looters and the threat of further natural disasters.
While “Aftershock” is not quite as catastrophic as its natural disaster namesake, viewers might be in need of humanitarian aid after trudging through a story that crumbles like the concrete walls of a Chilean nightclub during an earthquake. A less colorful way to put it would be to say that there is as much to like in “Aftershock” as there is to dislike.
Eli Roth is miscast as an American tourist affectionately nicknamed “Gringo.” By his own admission, the real-life Roth avoids drinking, smoking, and has a weekly facial to keep his skin up to Hollywood standards. Despite his model-like good looks and swinging bachelor reputation, Roth plays a middle-aged single father who dresses from a Sears catalog and fumbles like Ernest Byner when it comes to chatting up a woman. He has a wide-eyed babe-in-the-woods goofiness during his pre-earthquake scenes that never comes across as an authentic character.
Balancing that casting slipup is Nicolas Martinez as Gringo’s friend of a friend, Pollo. Martinez plays a grownup version of a spoiled brat, matching the bottomless depths of his father’s wallet with the cocksure overconfidence to throw that cash around on a whim. Although he embodies all the trappings of a conceited blowhard, Martinez’s performance brings a surprising likability to Pollo, and the character serves as a primary anchor throughout the storyline.
Ariel Levy completes the male trio as the linking friend, also named Ariel. The extent of his exposition is that he uses the social media applications on his phone to obsess over an ex-girlfriend. At a party, the three men connect with three women, equally mismatched in personality, and the six fast friends spend the next two days acquainting themselves as much with each other as they do with the Chilean countryside.
It takes over a half hour for the quake to hit. In the thirty minutes spent arriving there, “Aftershock” supplants proper exposition with scenes that are little more than the characters doing nondescript things. Instead of true “getting to know you” sequences of character establishment, the film offers a day of the week calendar with a timestamp as if running off a To-Do list comprised of pointless errands and time filling activities.
Once the earthquake begins, the timestamps mysteriously stop, highlighting the film’s off kilter and inconsistent narrative structure. In the meantime, moments that do pass for character development are as poorly presented as the rest of the first act. In one scene, two women exit a nightclub bathroom within moments of each other. The first woman intentionally tips over the cart of a cleaning woman, who for some reason is occupying the hallway and going about her job duties during the club’s post-midnight peak hours. When the second woman passes by, she takes a moment to help the housekeeper reassemble the cart with bleach bottles and paper towels. When that first woman is later crushed by a falling ceiling, presumably the audience is meant to welcome the death with apathy due to her arrogant disdain for the help. And the intention is to have sympathy for the post-earthquake plight of the second woman, seeing as how she is kind enough to take pity on a poor woman wearing a kerchief and rubber gloves. It is such a trivial way to inject a character trait that the script is not making an honest effort at fleshing out true depth to these personalities.
As the three men and three women dance, drink, and converse, disaster finally strikes and the nightclub scene of revelry turns to panicked horror. Although various limbs and entire bodies are crushed one after another by toppling slabs of concrete, the scope of the earthquake’s impact is lessened due to it being depicted within the confines of the club. The interior carnage is tragic, and while the surrounding effects are later shown in the aftermath, there is a feeling that something is missing without a window to the immediate devastation occurring outside and across the country.
However, the film turns itself around as quickly as the priorities change for the clubbers once the second act begins. “Aftershock” is not a typical Hollywood disaster film. Near the midway mark, Mother Nature takes a backseat and the movie switches to a different type of fight for survival. Like a Romero zombie film, it becomes painfully apparent that the double trio has more to fear from other humans than they do from anything else.
Havoc suitably wreaked, rioting and raping take precedence over rebuilding and rehabilitation as the first orders of business for local looters. With plenty to fear already from this relatively vanilla level of opportunist, the danger is compounded when collapsing prison walls let loose the inmates to join their barbaric brethren. This is when “Aftershock” is at its most chilling. It is practically a different movie, and a better one at that, when illustrating how tragedy changes society and the ways in which humans behave towards one another.
By the next act change, “Aftershock” settles back into a familiar rote. The final scenes collapse like the nightclub walls with the reveal of a final villain whose arc makes no sense once the true identity is uncovered. “Aftershock” tops things off with an ending that perfectly fits the message of the story, although it can be predicted easily and without the aid of a crystal ball or Tarot cards.
“Aftershock” has merit with its brutal depictions of true horror and tension. It also needed another pass on the script and a second look at the cast list before the camera started rolling. For every fun and lively character like Pollo, there is a counterpart such as the flat and dull Gringo.
There are interesting themes in the film about society taking personal advantage of tragedy as well as ideas about the unimportance of little problems when situations change on a dime. Unfortunately, the compelling components of “Aftershock” are sandwiched between a lazily plotted first act and a formulaic finale. In the end, it washes out as neither overly good nor overly bad, but merely something in between.
Review Score: 50