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Aftershock Review: When an Earthquake is the Least of Your Troubles
Aftershock came about when Eli Roth and Nicolás López were talking about making a film together and decided to do it in Chile. The story incorporates actual experiences of people who were caught in the earthquake of 2010 and also some of the urban legends in the town of Valparaiso. Roth and Lopez shot in locations that had suffered damage from the earthquake that hadn’t been repaired, most notably a graveyard where the tombs were broken open. It’s cool to see an exotic location like Valparaiso used so effectively. It helps to keep the movie feeling realistic even when the plot starts to stray. Roth apparently liked filming in Chile so much that went back there for his next film, a cannibal horror pic called The Green Inferno that stars some of the Aftershock cast.
Gringo, played by Eli Roth, is visiting his friends Pollo (Nicholas Martinez) and Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile. They’re having a great time and it gets even better when they run into Kylie, Monica and Irina. Unlike most recent horror movies that start out with an ensemble cast of characters, I actually liked and cared about these people.
Sure, Pollo is kind of an a-hole, but that’s his personality and he does it so well that he ends up being likeable. Each of the characters has a life and a backstory that we learn about. It makes them believable and brings the audience closer to them.
The characters are in a club in Valparaiso when the earthquake hits, and the scene is appropriately horrifying and realistic. While most people in the club worry only about themselves, our group tries to help out others injured in the initial quake, with varied results. There’s a lovely black comedic moment when someone loses a hand and the panicking club-goers are kicking it around the floor while the others try to grab it. And if you think losing a hand is bad, then what happens to it later is even more tragic, but somehow still funny.
Because this is a horror movie, the earthquake is only the start of their troubles. A tsunami warning causes the group to seek higher ground, but the streets are either cut off or filled with other kinds of trouble. They try to get the injured member of the group to the hospital, but Pollo’s earlier jerkishness causes them issues with the cable car operator, and when they finally get that member aboard, let’s just say that whatever passes for OSHA in Chile might want a word with the owner.
This is where Aftershock switches from disaster film to horror movie. It’s almost as if the cast has mistakenly stepped into a screening of Final Destination. They’re knocked off, one by one, in mostly very horrible ways, though there are a few that seemed pointless and unplanned. There’s one death that’s particularly gruesome and cringe-inducing, but I’m sure that person would have it no other way. I guess it was foolish to believe that the group would escape mostly intact, and this is where liking the characters ends up working against the audience.
I wouldn’t have been so annoyed by that if I hadn’t been totally wrapped up in watching and rooting for Gringo and his friends to survive the destruction all around them. I can see why from a horror film perspective the characters had to die gruesomely, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Aftershock makes you care about each character’s death, but by the end I was pretty numb because I realized that probably only one or two would survive. I can’t say without spoiling whether that actually ends up being true, but I can say that the end of the movie made me laugh, but in a nihilistic way.
It’s funny, but the ending kind of made the nasty things that happened during the movie to Gringo and his buddies alright on some level. Or maybe I was just glad not to watch any more of them get snuffed out in random ways. I liked Aftershock quite a bit, even with its issues, and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of Eli Roth’s work.