“I’ll buy you a new hand”
When opening credits begin with ‘an Eli Roth film’, you should know what to expect. While not quite his creatively—it’s directed by Nicolás López—the torture porn maestro does get a writing credit to accompany his producer and star statuses. With an act structure pretty much identical to Hostel, the fact it is less polished and includes a much more pronounced comedic bent allows viewers to experience a different reaction. Its Chilean setting provides a wealth of partying to be had by our leading trio and any dread for what’s to come is quickly forgotten because of it. The eventual earthquake that causes the titular Aftershock could happen at any moment, but we get to enjoy ourselves with Roth’s Gringo, Ariel Levy‘s Ariel, and Nicolás Martínez‘s Pollo making fools of themselves before the bloody chaos begins.
Where López, Roth, and Guillermo Amoedo‘s script works is in this clubbing atmosphere and their unfortunate personas within it. Gringo is the goofy, normal guy—a good father with a good heart and desire to meet a nice, sexy girl abroad. Ariel is his connection to Pollo, languishing in the heartbreak of losing his girlfriend and wanting to forgive her adultery yet again. And Pollo is the cocky, entitled son of a major Chilean business player who knows everyone, can get anything, and shows the boys an amazing time. It’s party after party with sightseeing for Gringo in between until they meet a trio of girls out on the same quest. Wild child Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), her buttoned-up sister Monica (Andrea Osvárt), and their model friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko) quickly accept the boys’ invite for what should be an exclusive, kick-ass bash.
López, Levy, and Martínez are well known on the internet for their roles in successfully comedic Chilean television shows and movies and their recruitment of Roth only adds to their rapport. In what amounts to a campy, gore-fest, these guys seem to be enjoying themselves and their clichéd, humorous personas. Ariel is a carefully measured amount of pathetic, Gringo the is he or isn’t he faking the wholesome routine getting turned down by women left and right, (including a fun Selena Gomez cameo), and Pollo the rowdy, doesn’t understand the word no buddy you despise in principle but love in your entourage. There is a ton of mocking, sarcasm, and intentionally bad advice going around and yet it all endears them in a very familiar way. They are regular Joes having a blast like we would in the same circumstances.
And that can be said for their attractive, female co-stars too. Total clichés as far as good girl, bad girl, and successful girl, they work because the film doesn’t ever ask for more. Hidden plot points that should infer on their motivations are slipped in every once in a while—I don’t think it’s explicitly said but one can guess why Kylie isn’t supposed to drink—but it’s all superfluous when they’re used as love interests until the chaotic disaster occurs to strip every character of anything besides soon-to-be victim or wannabe hero. Other than personality becoming fodder for jokes, Aftershock is at its core a genre flick pairing off male and female randomly for wider appeal and less obvious death order. It is a horror film after all; the fun and games can’t last forever.
Not everything falls apart when the world shakes and tsunami siren sounds, it just becomes less interesting. Gone are potential relationships and clashing attitudes while survival instincts take their place. The gore is over-the-top with a huge body count, but it all lives in a no man’s land of being both not crazy or not serious enough to find its footing. There is a lot to like including the filmmakers rightly making sure no actor is less expendable than the rest, but we’re always caught between disgusting authenticity and intriguing taboo. We’ve got murderers and rapists escaped from jail running around town while concerned citizens lock their gates to stay safe, but no one quite embraces one tone over the other We just flip back and forth between attempted dramatic gravitas and easy insanity.
Becoming exactly what it appears to be via its publicity materials, the potential for more does exist. I liked the rapid descent into carnage but the not-so surprising revelations concerning new characters and bloody fates underwhelmed. There is something to be said about leaving a lot of the violence to the quake instead of letting it become a MacGuffin in lieu of unforeseen evil, though. Crushed victims are numerous as a result and crumbling structures do play a large role in the proceedings. I can’t say there’s anything new or fresh about what occurs onscreen, just that it entertains enough and seems a labor of love by its creators. Dead babies, religious caves, and warped homicidal hooligans try to ratchet up the suspense yet only end up adding to the clutter.
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival