When an out of towner named Gringo (Eli Roth) visits Chile for the first time, his two friends Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) and Ariel (Ariel Levy) take him out for a night on the town where they meet up with a trio of girlfriends at an underground nightclub. As they begin to party the night away a massive earthquake rocks Chile leveling numerous buildings and structures sending the country into a state of panic. Soon after as they begin to search for a way out of the city to look for help they learn that surviving the earthquake was just the beginning of the terror that awaits them.
“The only thing more dangerous than mother nature is human nature”.
That is the tagline for director Nicolas Lopez’s new disaster movie meets horror film “Aftershock” and it perfectly encapsulates what this film is setting out to do. It’s an interesting mixture of genres, using a natural disaster such as an earthquake as the catalyst for what soon becomes a dangerous cat and mouse game where our survivors are being relentlessly stalked by a group of crazed convicts who have unpleasant plans for them. Unfortunately the promise of this unlikely melding of genres can’t make up for some horrible pacing issues, a mixed bag of performances that range from mediocre to forgettable and a noticeable lack of funding.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, there is only one reason this film has gotten the notoriety that it has and that is due in most part to Eli Roth’s involvement. As the director of “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever” (and friend to Quentin Tarantino), Roth has quite a bit of experience when it comes to the horror genre and filmmaking in general. But as an actor, besides his limited role in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”, he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to stretch his legs. While his performance here isn’t likely to turn any heads, it is at the very least competent and his natural charisma in front of the camera goes a long way too.
As for the rest of the cast, which is comprised of relative unknowns, with the single exception being Andrea Osvart as the level headed straight arrow of the group, most deliver adequate to sub par performances which given the genre the film is firmly rooted in is sadly expected. However, the cast is hardly important (although what was up with that Selena Gomez cameo?), what is important is watching the cast get picked off one by one by either the forces of mother nature, by crazed convicts roaming free in the devastated Chilean streets, or by a mixture of both (which often results in the film’s best moments).
Now, as for that whole disaster/horror movie hybrid business. If you stop and think about it, both of those genres actually have more in common than it first appears. Both are about an isolated group of people who are injured, exhausted, fighting to survive and have their prospects of survival constantly thwarted at nearly every turn. The only real difference between the two is the whole human factor which this film appropriately takes advantage of in all the right ways.
Instead of people working to save other people from danger like we see in a typical disaster movie, we watch as the survivors of the earthquake are hunted down mercilessly by other survivors. It may sound like an insignificant alteration to either genre, but the proof is in the pudding which in this case is impressively disturbing when it switches gears near the end of the film. It’s also important to note that like most of Eli Roth’s films, “Aftershock” is a rather grim and hopeless affair with plenty of cringe worthy moments that horror fans will eat up.
The effects of that morbid third act to this surprisingly short film (it runs barely 90 minutes long) are its saving grace, but are slightly diminished due to some obvious low budget concerns whenever any of the natural disasters strike. While horror films have been making people die without much of a budget for decades now, it is a little more difficult to pull off a city in ruins and nearly every scene where we see a building crumble or some other force of natural sweep in it just looks amateur. To be fair, what was accomplished here isn’t horrible, but it is just barely a step above a Sci-Fi movie of the week in most cases.
Which leads into another concern in regards to the film’s scale or lack thereof. We are supposed to believe the entire country of Chile has been devastated yet there is a distinct lack of people on the streets and the ensuing chaos feels very undercooked. Much of this problem is alleviated once it makes the switch to the more standard horror formula, but up until that happens the entire production has this overly cheap feel to it that lessens the effectiveness of the horror bits that show up later.
Which is saddening because when it comes to straight up horror, “Aftershock” delivers. It’s extremely uncommon for any horror film to do something unexpected and nearly everything that happens in the film’s final act will have you on the edge of your seat. While the build up takes entirely too long to get to the point (the earthquake doesn’t even hit until about 40 minutes in), the wait is almost worth it when you start to see these people get knocked off one by one in rapid succession. That is one of the film’s most praiseworthy aspects, how it flips the script on your expectations at every turn.
But there is no getting around the fact that the early parts of the film are without a doubt it’s weakest attribute which unfortunately may dissuade those who would actually take pleasure in and appreciate the deadly delights that lie ahead. If you have the patience then the payoff is almost worth it since the twisted and sadistic turn the film takes in its final act is its own special brand of a uniquely bloody and disturbingly violent good time.
But ultimately the film has too much going against it to fully recommend it with a clean conscience. The extended amount of time it takes to get going, the mostly poor acting and lack of a budget to sell the more grand moments of the disaster are just too distracting in the end. Horror fans who are looking for something a bit different may want to check it out when it arrives on a streaming service at some point but everyone else can skip this one without much regret.