Why can’t I learn from my own mistakes – whatever Eli Roth creates/directs himself is genius. Cabin Fever, Hostel, his Thanksgiving themed Grindhouse trailer, I just can’t get enough of his work. Whatever he produces and presents though doesn’t have the same track record for some reason. While the kung-fu B-Movie loving side of me admittedly dug The Man With The Iron Fists, The Last Exorcism didn’t strike my found footage fancy, and The Last Exorcism Part II I wish was never made. So how did Nicolás López’s natural disaster film Aftershock fare with Roth’s seal of approval? Ugh, here we go again.
Aftershock starts by following a group of three friends, two Chileans named Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) plus Ariel’s American friend Gringo (Eli Roth), as they party through the South American country. Visiting a slew of concerts and clubs, they finally hook up with a group of girls named Monica (Andrea Osvárt), Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), and Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), and Pollo convinces the females to accompany their studly trio to an epic underground party in Valparaiso, but Monica tries to convince her sister Kylie going home is the better option. Her pleas work to no avail, the newly meshed group wind up in Valparaiso for a lovely day of sightseeing and a raucous night of partying, but instead walk right into Mother Nature’s rage. While in the club, a devastating earthquake hits sending the town into chaos, only to be followed by sirens of an approaching tsunami. Talk about a double whammy? Yup, our gang sounds pretty screwed, but they fight through the crumbled city looking for a way out – while avoiding looters, pitfalls, and killers of course.
Here’s my biggest problem with Aftershock – I couldn’t tell whether López was actually trying to make seriously shocking horror, or if he was going for more of a schlocky, cheesy, intentionally “bad but good” vibe. Instead of picking one side, I saw a weird atmospheric mix that wasn’t serious enough to be scary but not well-versed enough in humor to achieve true B-Movie humor. Characters obviously had lines that weren’t meant to be terribly serious, and while I genuinely laughed at a few of these moments, other less successful attempts to tickle our demented funny-bone saw characters failing miserably. I admittedly laughed at these moments too, but not for the right reasons – and this happened all too often.
I’m pretty bummed too, because the opening party scenes with Ariel, Pollo, and Gringo are hilarious and entertaining. Eli Roth is lovably nerdy/out of place, Ariel Levy nails the typical “guy who obsesses over his ex” persona, and Nicolás Martínez is a riot as the tubby little playboy giving hope to the masses. The three dudes have a great “bro” dynamic that proves intentionally comical and entertaining, especially while partying their asses off and hitting on girls. Personally, I would have been fine watching some silly raunchy comedy about the three. These scenes worked extremely well and were a perfect set-up, but then disaster strikes and survival takes over. From here, our characters don’t deal with paranoia and anarchy the same way, struggling to pull off the same quality performances covered in blood and brutally beaten.
But here’s where I was surprised – López’s combination of a disaster horror film and dystopian look at a lawless world blended together in a way that was both exciting and tense, until a lacking finale which redeemed itself by ending EXACTLY how it needed to. Getting back to the ravaged Valparaiso though, it’d be one thing if Eli Roth and company were only jumping over deadly pits and avoiding falling buildings, instead of having to fight through evil characters taking advantage of the sudden freedom. Multiple degrees of terror spun our vacationer’s lives into a unavoidable hell far past our wildest dreams, and López brutalizes his characters and marches them into the mouth of Satan. Honestly, I was surprised how easily characters checked out of the film, and in which order.
You all thought I was going to keep crapping on Aftershock, weren’t ya. Nope! I’m not going to say it’s a classic or anything, but I wasn’t removed from the experience or thinking about all the negatives above until that last act. I chuckled through the drunken club scenes, intensity heightened as Valparaiso was reduced to a criminal-infested riot scene and I could sense the danger around every pile of rubble, but a distinct tonal unbalance and severe quality drop-off come the finale make Aftershock nothing more than passable. But hey, passable is still positive, and I know certain fans are absolutely going to dig what López shook up. I just wish I knew what atmosphere he was trying to create.
Whether Nicolás López was actually trying to be funny with Aftershock I'll never know, because I ended up laughing more than I intended, but hell - intensity and pace gleefully carry the film two-thirds of the way.