Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2013


Disaster indeed

'Aftershock' is what it looks like when you light ten million dollars on fire

Director: Nicolás López
Screenplay: Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López and Eli Roth
Starring: Eli Roth, Nicolás Martínez, Andrea Osvárt, Lorenza Izzo, Natasha Yarovenko and Ariel Levy
Rated R / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Aftershock is guilty of not only being terrible, but earth-shatteringly dull at the same time. I find myself bored even by the prospect of writing about it. You know those low-budget "mockbusters" you find popping up on Netflix or Redbox - the ones with deliberately similar names and premises to actual movies? Yeah, Aftershock feels remarkably like one of those, except in this case the makers are actually trying to make a good film. (I assume.)

It would be virtually impossible to make a mockbuster version of it (which I assume would be called Aftereffect or Aftermath or Earthshock), simply because filmmaking quality and production value can only go so low. IMDb lists its budget as $10 million, a number I find confoundingly high; I would have guessed a few hundred thousand. A million, tops. It looks cheap, it feels cheap, it's woefully miscast, and it never really gets to the point. Or a point. It thinks it has a sense of humor about its horror elements, but - except for a couple of isolated exceptions - any feel for comedic staging or timing is almost entirely absent.

Like star and co-writer Eli Roth's 2005 film Hostel, Aftershock begins as a carefree romp among vacationing twentysomethings whose only ambitions are getting drunk and laid, and then eventually morphs into a horror survival movie.

At the center of it all is a group of guys partying around Chile who Meet Cute with a group of girls doing the same thing. They spend the next day or two wandering around town, seeing a few sights, hitting the clubs and engaging in general touristy merriment. What's funny is how the script tries to give everyone specific character details and backstories, for seemingly no other reason than they need to pad the runtime. None of those details ever really means anything or pay off - they're just banal pieces of color designed to artificially flesh out characters the film has no interest in exploring. For the guys - or rather, bros - there's the cool, rich, hipster, there's the guy still obsessing over his ex-girlfriend, and there's the Gringo. On the women's side, there's the uptight one, the wild one, and the exotic one.

Now here's where the biggest miscalculation comes in, and it's a mistake most likely owed to the fact that Eli Roth is a co-writer and producer of the film. As such, he cast himself as the de-facto lead, and the sad, simple truth is he has an almost astonishing lack of screen presence. He's a bottomless void of charisma. And when he's ostensibly your film's emotional anchor, your film has no emotional anchor.

Your patience with him, his bros and their exploits may be dependent on your tolerance level for this particular kind of grown-up frat boy. In any case, director/co-writer Nicolás López decides it's a good idea to spend nearly the whole opening hour with these guys as they try (with varying success) to impress their new lady friends.

* We discover in an early scene that Roth's character, the Gringo, has a daughter back home. I suppose this is meant to make him, what, more likeable? Relatable?

The thing is, a more-or-less identical formula has worked in plenty of horror flicks before. In fact, a good recent example is Death Proof (in which, incidentally, Roth had a supporting role), which spent a good 45 minutes learning the ins and outs of its characters and wryly setting up the terror that was eventually to come. Aftershock has no such vision or focus. It just flounders around for nearly an hour before abruptly, and finally, shifting gears - only the change in tone doesn't take much advantage of anything built during the first half. It was all just wasted time. (For the record, much of the first half of Hostel was a waste of time, too - which is unfortunate because the second half is so good.)

The earthquake (and rumors of a pending tsunami) throws the entire city town into a panic, and then almost immediately we're thrust into an anarchic hellscape, with our characters suddenly on the run from a band of maniacal savages. The film goes from Entourage to Escape from New York in about two seconds. And even that doesn't enliven things much. Ultimately it's hard to tell where the filmmakers were going with any of this. Comedy? Disaster movie? Postapocalyptic-style horror? All of the above? Either way, it's a failure on all levels.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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