Aftershock (2013)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/14/13 07:38:39
Have you ever watched one of those old disaster films from the Seventies and wondered what they would have been like if they actually depicted the gruesome details of what might occur occur to the characters in event of fire, flood, earthquake or whatever the hell happened in "When Time Ran Out"? Have you ever sat through either of the "Hangover" movies and fervently wished that those oafs would suddenly get crushed underneath large objects unexpectedly falling from above? Have you ever wondered if Eli Roth could be at least partially responsible for a movie even more gruesome, heartless and rabidly xenophobic than "Hostel" or "Hostel Part II."?If you have been searching for the answers to those questions, it might be gently suggested that a reassessment of your life goals may be in order. However, if you must have answers to these questions, then one look at the savagely grisly "Aftershock" should be able to provide you with the answer to your queries. For practically everyone else, however, this film will come across as a dramatically bloodless exercise in not-so-Grand Guignol that is so completely devoid of anything resembling entertainment that even the undiscriminating gorehounds comprising the vast majority of its presumed target audience will find sitting through it to be an endurance test and for all of the wrong reasons.
Unlike the "Hostel" movies, Roth does not direct this time around, leaving that chore up to Nicolas Lopez (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Roth and Guillermo Aomoeda), which is the good news. The bad news is that Roth has chosen to fill his free time by acting in it instead and let it be said that he does for the art of performance what friend and occasional collaborator Quentin Tarantino does for it--absolutely nothing. Here, he plays a smarmy American, known only as The Gringo, vacationing in Chile with a couple of local pals--romantic dupe Ariel (Ariel Levy) and obnoxious rich guy Pollo (Nicolas Martinez)--as a way of getting over his recent divorce.
After nearly 40 minutes of watching them screwing around throughout the countryside in the kind of aimless footage that exploitation filmmakers used to shoot to include in the TV edits of their movies so that they could still fill the time slot after all the sex and violence was clipped out, the three end up at an underground nightclub in the company of three babes--Russian model Irina (Natasha Martinez), drunken party girl Kylie (Lorena Izzo) and Kylie's straight-laced sister Monica (Andre Osvart)---when a massive earthquake hits the region. This cues the first of many appallingly gruesome sequences in which any number of hot young things are crushed, trampled and impaled in the ensuing chaos--one person's attempt at heroism results in a severed hand that becomes the focus of much cheerful whimsy.
Battered and bleeding, our heroes make it to the surface only to discover that their car has been destroyed, communication with the outside world is practically non-existent and there are rumors that a giant tsunami wave is on its way as well. To make matters work, whatever infrastructure that wasn't already destroyed by the quake is now dangerously unstable, as is demonstrated when a cable car filled with children and the wounded heading for a hospital meets an especially icky end. And just to add a final festive touch to the proceedings, the quake has allowed the inmates of a local prison to escape an it seems as if every single escapee is now heavily armed and ready to brutally rape every woman they come across and kill anyone who tries to interfere in their attempts to achieve that noble goal.
The idea behind "Aftershock," I suppose, was to take the classic disaster movie framework--a long set-up in which we get to know the characters whose travails we will be following followed by said travails--and and give it an exploitation-style twist by replacing the lavish special effects that someone like the late, great Irwin Allen would gleefully supply to viewers with gallons of gore not seen in the genre since "Survive," the infamous Mexican film that reenacted the nastiest moments of the story of the rugby team that crash-landed in the Andes mountains and ate the bodies of the dead in order to survive. This may not be the most noble of aims but in the right hands, such an approach might have yielded something at least formally interesting but "Aftershock" is such a mess that even those in the mood for a sleazy exploitation film are going to be alternately bored and repelled by the results.
For starters, every single one of the characters that we are asked to follow is a one-dimensional cipher possessing but a single individual characteristic to distinguish themselves from the others (to be fair, Roth's character gets maybe two but then again, he was one of the writers) and after only a few minutes, most viewers will be more than ready to see them torn apart like fresh bread. Granted, the old disaster movies weren't exactly famous for their nuanced sense of character development but they at least usually offered up well-known actors with distinctive personalities to help move things along. Here, the actors are so blandly forgettable that the only distinctive thing about several of them is their vague resemblance to actual famous faces--the rich guy bears a passing similarity to Zach Galifianakis, the serious-minded girl is a virtual clone of Carey Mulligan and if one squints hard enough, Eli Roth begins to look a little bit like Eli Roth, though to call his face "famous" might be stretching the point to the breaking point.
Lacking even a single character who is remotely likable or interesting, "Aftershock" quickly becomes even more unendurable that it was presumably designed to be. The absurdly overlong pre-earthquake setup is tedious beyond words as the characters wander around trading dialogue that consists of either glibly insensitive commentary about their surroundings or blatant foreshadowing of plot points that will come up later in the proceedings. (Yes, this is the kind of film that informs us that one character is traumatized by a recent abortion in the early going simply to set up a bit later on where she finds herself in a room chock-full of dead babies.) Once the chaos kicks in, there are no discernible touches of tension, suspense or even anything in the way of creative bloodletting--there is enough spurting blood and jutting bone to resemble the business end of an exceptionally busy slaughterhouse--and after a while, I found myself paying more attention to the myriad ways in which the film demonstrated its presumably meager budget buy redressing the same couple of sets over and over again.
In other words, the only thing that "Aftershock" really has to offer viewers is outright sadism and there is plenty of that to go around here. Granted, horror films have been getting more and more unpleasant in recent years but the depravations served up by Roth and his cohorts this time around really take the cake. The aforementioned unpleasantness involving the cable car and the dead babies would theoretically be enough to sicken even the hardiest of viewers but they hardly Without going into too many details, there is one extended sequence involving torture, multiple rape and murder that goes so far beyond the pale, even in a form that has reportedly been edited down from how it was originally shown during its initial run on the festival circuit, that it almost makes the stuff seen in the "Hostel" movies seem whimsical by comparison. That said, the only moment in the film that conjures up a genuine sense of creepiness and unease comes during a very strange bit early in which Roth, who character is probably at least in his thirties or so, unsuccessfully tries to pick up a girl at a club played, in the most inexplicable cameo in ages, by none other than teen queen Selena Gomez. Yes, "ewwww" is right.From the aimless drifting of its opening to its pointlessly nihilistic final image--presumably designed to end the film on an especially wacky note--"Aftershock" is a film that has the alleged bravery to show the worst that shock-happy filmmakers have to offer but none of the talent or insight required to do so in an interesting or watchable manner. Sitting through it was an unspeakably depressing experience and the only mildly happy thing that I can take away from it is that it is the kind of film that will quickly disappear from view. In other words, if you are inexplicably looking for this summer's "Piranha 3-DD," you are in luck and that may be the only circumstance in which "Aftershock" and the phrase "you are in luck" can plausibly be used in tandem.
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