” The only thing more terrifying than Mother Nature is human nature.”
Director: Nicolas Lopez
Cast: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolas Martinez
Synopsis: In Chile, a group of travelers who are in an underground nightclub when a massive earthquake hits quickly learn that reaching the surface is just the beginning of their nightmare.
If it wasn’t for the title appearing over the credits, you could easily be fooled into believing that you’d inserted some lightweight rip-off of The Hangover for the first half-hour of Aftershock, Nicolas Lopez’s melding of the disaster and horror movie genres. We watch with impatient bemusement as three rather unlikeable Americans tour the nightclubs of Chile, hoping to get laid but mostly just getting drunk and grouchy with one another. If it’s a ruse to lull us into complacency then it fails, and if it’s an attempt at character development then that long half-hour is only partially successful. We learn which of the three men is the biggest knob and which is the most pathetic, but little else. But the earthquake which rips their lives apart with sudden and unyielding intensity signals not only a seismic shift in the lives of our companions but in the tone and pace of the movie itself. For the following hour we’re carried along on a ferocious, unrelenting tide of disaster and brutal misfortune which is almost exhausting to watch. Things go seriously awry in the final reel, but until then Aftershock is a real edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Those three unlikeable Yanks are Gringo (Eli Roth — 2001 Maniacs, Inglourious Basterds — who also co-wrote with Lopez and produced), a slightly old-before-his-time father, his friend, Ariel (Ariel Levy), whose split from his girlfriend has hit him hard, and Ariel’s rich buddy, Pollo (Nicolas Martinez), who believes his wealth gives him the right to behave like a complete a-hole. Together, these three visit wine vineyards during the day and haunt upmarket clubs at night. They’re in a trendy subterranean nightclub with three girls, Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), Kylie (Lorenza Izzo) and her older sister Monica (Andrea Osvart) when an earthquake strikes, ripping the place apart and crushing people beneath falling lighting and furnishings. Ariel loses a hand rescuing a bartender trapped beneath a shelving unit, but otherwise the six make it to the surface relatively unscathed. However, reaching the surface is when their troubles really begin…
If nothing else, Aftershock provides a compelling insight into the chaos and anarchy that quickly prevail in an extreme situation during which the protection (or oppression, depending on your viewpoint) of law enforcement is temporarily compromised. The situation in Aftershock isn’t helped by the fact that the earthquake has enabled a large number of prisoners to escape from the local prison. Almost immediately, the greater danger faced by our six is from humans rather than nature — and not just from those escaped prisoners. Terrified civilians desperate to protect their families are more likely to shoot those seeking help than to give them shelter…
Lopez piles on the suspense with every twist of the storyline. Moral conundrums are raised — ‘would you rather kill two people than one?’ reasons a fireman trapped in his cab as he beseeches Pollo to cut away the pole that traps him, even though to do so would certainly kill his badly injured colleague — and more often than not what we would consider the right choice results in the death of someone. And Aftershock follows no genre template with its random order of deaths. Those you would expect to survive — or at least live longest — are killed unexpectedly, forcing a previously relatively minor character to step forward and become the focal point, if only until they too meet their grisly fate. This democratic distribution of fatal risk is unsettling for an audience — we literally don’t know what is going to happen next, or when it will happen, or to whom. Death can come at the most unexpected moments and in the most arbitrary of ways to anyone.
Aftershock doesn’t have many fans — but it has a huge amount of detractors — and it’s true that it isn’t without faults. We seem to wait forever for something to happen while we watch what looks like an extended version of one of those adverts for a youth-oriented alcoholic drink, and despite taking all this time the characters remain stereotypical yet sketchily drawn. There’s also an unforgivable transformation of one character from victim to crazed killer which really doesn’t work and does, in fact, seriously harm the picture. But then these are all the kind of faults that can be found in movies with much better reputations than Aftershock. There seems to be something of a herd mentality in the bashing of this movie, so it’s worth giving it a look just so you can form your own opinion.