MOVIE: ** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Eli Roth as GRINGO
Andrea Osvárt as MONICA
Lorenza Izzo as KYLIE
Natasha Yarovenko as IRINA
Ariel Levy as ARIEL
Nicolás Martínez as POLLO
Studio: Anchor Bay
Directed by: Nicolás López
BY KEVIN CARR
When “Aftershock” came out earlier this summer, I was curious enough to watch it. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of Eli Roth. (To be honest, I really liked “Cabin Fever” and appreciated the first two “Hostel” movies for what they are, but overall, he’s not a great presence in filmmaking today.) I was intrigued by the concept, as well as the support that Roth and Quentin Tarantino have for independent filmmakers.
Unfortunately, “Aftershock” may be a competently made movie, but it’s not an independent triumph that Roth’s own “Cabin Fever” was a decade ago.
“Aftershock” follows a group of partiers in Chile, having the time of their lives on vacation. As Gringo (Roth) navigates the night life of the country with his friend Ariel (Ariel Levy) and rich kid Pollo (Nicolás Martínez), he has trouble meeting girls. They meet up with some international tourists and start to hit it off. However, when a massive earthquake hits, they must face mortal danger from aftershocks – both natural and man-made – as a result.
One of the reasons I was curious about checking out the “Aftershock” Blu-ray was to get some insight into the filmmakers’ process. Both Roth and writer/director Nicolás López have a commentary track that explains the ins and outs of the production. Unfortunately, they don’t go into the details that I had hoped, to help explain the purpose of the film.
There were several elements of the movie that bothered me (and it’s not just me stampeding to condemn the rape scene that happens later in the film). I found the characters to be so shallow and insipid that I never got invested in them as people. At first, I questioned whether this was done to wring some unexpected sympathy from the audience as these characters are punished. Or was it an attempt to make the audience face their own disinterest with shocking results.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem that López and Roth’s thoughts were that detailed or deep. In fact, listening on-and-off to the commentary, it sounds as if they thought they were doing brilliant characterization, particularly of the parents in the group. Unfortunately, they aren’t well characterized, and their humanity is painfully superficial.
I also was curious to the reasons for the level of sheer punishment that is endured by these characters. After all, an earthquake and the subsequent physical dangers are one thing. However, roving gangs of rape squads just seemed to be overkill. The answer I got was simply that López and Roth wanted the characters to face realistic horror rather than that of the supernatural kind.
Still, that doesn’t explain why it was necessary to show the hopelessness to such a degree. Even Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (which I loathed, by the way) had a point to its hopelessness. It’s not that I wanted the film to be a weirdly uplifting movie like we saw with “The Impossible.” However, I had hoped the filmmakers had something more to say and do than to just torture the characters. Even Roth’s “Hostel” had more of a point to it.
In the end, I still didn’t hate “Aftershock,” even after rewatching it in a more informed context. But it’s still nothing more than a movie designed to punish the audience by punishing the characters. And that’s a shame because both Eli Roth and Nicolás López are capable of so much more.
The Blu-ray comes with the aforementioned commentary (which offers interesting insight into the fact that much of the cast and filmmakers come from a romantic comedy background) as well as a making-of featurette. Finally, there’s a somewhat cruel joke played during the casting process, which featured actors in an unexpected simulated earthquake situation. Sadly, this plays about as humorously as much of the film does.