Fantastic Fest 2012: 'Aftershock' is a Failed Cross-Genre Experiment
by Jeremy Kirk
September 26, 2012
Disaster movies don't usually come quite like this, and that's a good and bad move for Aftershock, the latest film written and produced by Eli Roth. He must have flipped over to some Irwin Allen movies between grimy exploitation movies, and though the guts and gore aesthetic is fresh for the sub-genre, Roth along with director Nicolas Lopez rarely keep a grip on the film's focus. What begins as a genuinely funny comedy turns not only violent but downright ugly, and ultimately the writer/producer seems to be retreading only Hostel territory to make what he feels is a dramatic and shocking story of survival. Read on!
Roth also stars as one of three friends enjoying the sights and sounds of the Chilean nightlife, bouncing between clubs and drinking anything that's at least 80 proof. They come across three female cohorts also looking for fun and excitement, and the group partake in as much as they can before the holiday turns south. An earthquake hits, one that ravages the city of Valparaiso, and the friends suddenly find themselves in a shitstorm of dangerous situations. Teetering buildings, falling debris, roving gangs, escaped convicts, and the obvious aftershocks are the items on the group's agenda, and they have to survive all of it to make it out of the city alive. Not all of them do.
Credit has to be given to Roth and Lopez just for attempting a cross-breed of genres such as this. A slasher movie where the killer isn't a psychopath wearing a mask or a supernatural entity but the natural horrors that come from disasters like earthquakes is innovative at the very least. The film's vibe dips into Final Destination areas at points, and that series of films would likely be the closest comparison to Aftershock. However, the fun had in the former comes in sporadic fits with the latter. At least after the first 30 minutes.
Up until the disastrous incident, Aftershock plays like at travelogue of nightclubs in Chile, complete with flashing lights and thumping techno. The interaction between characters feels honest, nothing too broad or slapsticky when its attempting humor and nothing hokey or dull when its attempting character development. Roth has definitely improved in that department since the Hostel days. All of the actors, Roth included, flesh out their characters well, none too white or black but all residing in a nice gray area, making them all the more realistic. And it's funny. The dialogue is nothing amazing, but it's never phony. Even a cameo by Selena Gomez hits the humor button right. You know, if you know who Selina Gomez is.
You care for these people when events turn towards the worse, but after that pinnacle moment, the back-and-forth between humorous violence and brutal violence keeps the viewer at an arms length. The tonal shifts Lopez and Roth go through like pairs of socks never allow the audience to adjust to a set tone for the overall film. There's a general discomfort in Aftershock, and that's long before the amount of coldness in the film is felt. It's trying to be ballsy with its violence, but it's just mean-spirited. Introducing rape never helps a film's case against that, though.
At the very least, Aftershock is a curious experiment in marrying genres, something many filmmakers attempt but few find a way of locking all the pieces together firmly. Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez made an attempt here, but the pieces don't fit. Emotion rarely mixes well with blood and guts, and it's an even harder cocktail to get right when you're attempting to push the envelope. There's nothing wrong with grimy and future exercises by Roth to add a little exploitation to other genres are welcome, but the level of nastiness in Aftershock is jarring and undeserved. Maybe next time the ground won't be so shaky.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 4 out of 10