One could go into the moral questions of whether or not to set a film in and around the aftermath of a real-life tragic natural disaster and make that film about said disaster. My guess is that you could come up with arguments for (director lived through it) or against (profiteering on loss of life in real life) and go around and around on it. Honestly, I don’t have much interest in that conversation and would rather focus on the film itself but I do think it is worth mentioning because it is a factor in how the film itself turns out.
Aftershock is a disaster/breakdown film written by Nicolàs López, Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo and directed by Nicolàs López. The story starts with three friends (Roth as Gringo, Nicolas Martinez as Pollo and Ariel Levy as Ariel) who are traveling around Chile on vacation doing what groups of guys do in lovely foreign destinations which is, primarily, scheme on women. There is also some level of backstory with each of them, Ariel and Pollo being childhood friends, Gringo having just gone through a divorce and missing his daughter and Pollo being a bit of a favorite son in the area primarily because of his father’s money. They visit a winery and other tourist spots and spend the nights at various noisy, pulsing clubs with very little success or much in the way of dignity to show for it. This is all pretty standard and slightly pedestrian in its delivery. Kind of a ‘Hangover’ setup if the guys in question were kind of boring and didn’t really have dark sides.
On the night of the earthquake (really not giving much away here, I mean, it is called Aftershock, after all) the three find themselves in an exclusive underground club and are starting to show signs of wear around the edges dealing with each other. They also have hooked up with a trio of women (Andrea Osvárt as the hyper-uptight Monica, Lorenza Izzo as Monica’s wild child half-sister Kylie and Natasha Yarovenko as Irina) who serve as a good source of character interest because, again, the three main fellows are pretty dull. I will say that I was surprised at Mr. Eli Roth’s acting chops through the first part of the film and once things go bad. He really did alright all things considered – not going to supplant Sir Laurence Olivier any time soon but not terrible by any means.
Anyway, once the earthquake hits, all manner of fun is essentially lost and things go chaotic in a fast hurry. Ceilings collapse in the club, lights flare and fall and people run amok trampling each other and generally causing more harm. There is a genuine disregard for human life that establishes itself at this point that I quite appreciated. While tons of people die in the Roland Emmerich-type disaster films, you don’t really see them face-to-face for the most part. In Aftershock, the aftermath of the earthquake (both in human and non-human destruction) looks you straight in the eye and doesn’t spare those who are often spared in this type of thing. This was a smart move, as the human-sparing-selectivity of disaster in these types of movies can be quite grating. Our group barely makes it out of the club but suffered a seriously injury among them and must try to find help.
This sets up a downward spiral of events that pits our group against tangible, visible things like a rickety cable car (a very well handled, suspenseful scene), rioting in the streets, collapsing buildings and a herd of escaped convicts let loose on the unsuspecting public and in less visible things like the breakdown of human stability in the face of fear. Each handle this barrage in a different way and sometimes selflessness and heroism is rewarded and sometimes (rather, often) it is not. Again, I appreciate this ‘take no prisoners’ attitude because it felt more authentic in that way.
In the rapid charge to the final act, there are emotional scenes that feel valid and real and others that feel forced. There are scenes of vile, foul human behavior that have impact but linger in a way that lessens them. There is the inevitable culling of the herd (so to speak) and we’re basically along for the ride to see who might be left standing. At times this is bracing, suspenseful and solid but other times just feels too anemic and hopeless to be entertaining.
I think this is probably where Aftershock suffers its greatest setback is the abandoning of fun, over-the-top disaster carnage and replacing it with very real, very off-putting person on person violence that starts to feel like a nature documentary and paints humans as base animals and not as people. I get that as a concept but it doesn’t feel all that dynamic when it comes down to it.
All in all, Aftershock was a better film than I expected. That said, it could’ve been served much better with more time during the disaster itself to explore the breakdown of each of our characters and not as much time with the goofy, airy lead in to our three main male leads. So, love Eli Roth or hate him, the end product (and make no mistake, it is his product) in Aftershock isn’t worth gnashing your teeth about but not worth standing up and cheering about either.