Directed by Nicolas Lopez
Distributed by Anchor Bay
Eli Roth is a man who wears many hats. He writes. He produces. He directs. He acts. Hell, recently he even lent his name to a major Vegas attraction when his 24/7 spook house, the eponymous Eli Roth’s Goretorium, opened last year. His constant media exposure and rampant self-promotion have led the media to essentially christen him “King of the Splat Pack,” referring to the crop of new millennium directors working in horror.
If he isn’t doing promotion for one of his finished films, he can usually be heard spouting quotes about all of the ideas he has for upcoming projects. The guy has more jobs than Damon Wayans in a “Hey Mon” skit on “In Living Color.” And that’s exactly the problem because despite all of the prestige he enjoys from the media, most horror fans would agree that Roth hasn’t given the genre a truly classic film. Cabin Fever was an auspicious debut that showed promise for the young director, but since then the only memorable offering he’s produced was a fake trailer featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. There’s a lot of sizzle, not a lot of steak.
Which brings us to Aftershock (2012), the Chile-set disaster flick that Roth has been promoting heavily for the better part of a year. Roth leads the film as the generically named Gringo, an American tourist visiting two of his friends – Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez, who looks like Chile’s answer to Zach Galifianakis) – who are trying their best to get him laid while on vacation. They visit clubs, they go wine tasting, they play by the pool. The film spends an interminable thirty minutes with these three
douchebags friends, without providing any kind of character development or a reason to care about them once the earthquake finally hits. Once it does, chaos ensues and our leading pack of men, now joined by a trio of women, are thrust into a war zone situation with toppled buildings, marauding prisoners, and the threat of a tsunami that is constantly teased throughout the proceedings.
Since Mother Nature, as the film’s main threat, can’t have a physical incarnation, it’s up to the film to provide leading characters we can empathize with so we (the audience) feel something when one of them bites it. As stated earlier, we spend a great deal of time with these guys, but they’re painted as typical archetypes that are impossible to care about. Roth’s Gringo is a stereotypical American who doesn’t speak the language, spends the entire opening cruising for cooze, and makes a lot of self-deprecating Jew jokes. Pollo is a dead ringer for Alan from The Hangover, with his thick scruffy beard and amusing t-shirts. Honestly, there’s a club scene early on where ironic hipster shirts seem to get more screen time than our leading men. Was this sponsored by Tee Fury or something? Ariel is kind of the odd man out, adding very little to the film aside from being the boring straight man of sorts. The worst part is that they don’t even seem to all like each other, with Gringo and Pollo going at it enough that you’ll be begging for their deaths to happen pre-quake.
The film’s main conceit is to show how a society can break down during a major catastrophe, but it only does so in very typical ways, like showing how panicked clubbers are willing to trample others to death in order to escape. The real meat of this concept is the escaped prisoners, who stalk the streets looking for women to rape and men to rob. While a somewhat novel idea, the major issue is that the film has already established our leads aren’t really people to care about, which sort of neutralizes the threat of murder. Who cares if they die? The only hint of non-douchebaggery given to Gringo is that he has a daughter he cares about, but since their relationship is barely touched upon, that isn’t a credible reason to see him live. And Pollo is a daddy’s boy through and through, using his father’s money to finance his lifestyle of luxury. That’s normally the guy we want to see offed in a horror flick.
Aftershock is more concerned with showcasing the violent aftermath and wanton destruction of Chile instead of proving some emotional depth to make us care about what happens to these characters. It’s a vapid vessel for delivering one gory comeuppance after the next, devoid of the necessary pathos that makes truly classic disaster films work. Some credit can be given for a few practical FX gags that are appropriately gory, but there’s no redeeming the remainder of the film surrounding them.
The image on Starz/Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray certainly confirms its low-budget roots. Apparently, director Nicolas Lopez convinced Roth that shooting on Digital SLR cameras would produce an image akin to 35mm. I can’t say it was a successful choice because the image is very blasé. Lacking in sharpness and fine detail, most of the opening scenes set during the day appear blown out and overly saturated. Surprisingly, things look a bit better once night sets in, which allows colors to pop a bit more against the backdrop of night. Black levels are oppressive and thick, however, with much detail lost within them. The audio fares much better, with a powerful DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that features some absolutely crushing bass. Dialogue is well-balanced in the mix, never lost amidst all the chaos. The rear speakers could have been utilized more to emphasize the citywide terror occurring all around our characters, but this track still manages to get the job done.
In the bonus feature department, things start off with an “International Feature Commentary” with Eli Roth in L.A. and director Nicolas Lopez in Chile. The wonders of modern technology, right? Anyway, the two go over all the expected details regarding the project’s genesis, writing, location scouting, direction, etc. “The Making of Aftershock” is a brief featurette that runs for around 10 minutes. I’m sorry, but it’s a little hard to take director Lopez seriously when he’s wearing a cat shirt, sports coat, and glasses with rims so thick they look like raccoon eyes. Most of this piece is clips, with very little worthy information gleaned. Finally, there’s a gag called “Shaking Up the Casting Process”, wherein potential actors are brought in and told to change in a dressing room, one which is rigged up to violently shake and simulate a real quake.
Ultimately, Aftershock fails on virtually every level, the clearest being giving the audience characters we feel for in some way. If Eli Roth wants to pop up in his movies as a weed-toting hippie who provides comedic relief for a few minutes, that’s cool. But as a lead he simply cannot deliver the necessary elements. There are countless disaster films already in existence, so unless you absolutely have to see this to satisfy some morbid curiosity, I’d recommend avoiding it.
1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5