Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Aftershock

by Patrick Bromley
Well, that was unpleasant.

Aftershock, the new movie "presented by" Eli Roth and directed by Nicolás López, is a dark, dark affair. It collects a bunch of shitty people, lets them party in Chile for a half hour, then introduces a huge earthquake that kills many of them. Things fall on people. Heads get crushed. Limbs are taken off. People are stabbed, shot and set on fire. The movie is just a waiting game in which the viewer is invited to keep watching as the characters in which we are meant to be invested are randomly taken out.

Eli Roth, who co-wrote the script and produced the movie, is the de facto lead, playing "Gringo," the only American hanging out with his two friends in Chile. They go clubbing, they get drunk, they try and have sex with women. One night, they meet up with some impossibly beautiful model types and hit it off, which is the worst possible time for everyone to start dying. Better tagline for the movie: Mother Nature is a total cockblock.
There's a weird trend going on in horror the last few years, where movies spend a lot of time setting up a vapid, "life's a party" scenario and then punish the protagonists for their hedonism. It's there in movies like Hostel and Turistas and Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha and now Aftershock. Sure, there were a number of post-Halloween horror movies that had teenagers getting axed after a night of sex, but that seems positively chaste compared to what we get now. Those characters always had to sneak off and get freaky in private; in many cases, it was a boyfriend/girlfriend combo or, at the very least, characters who knew and liked one another. In the years since, that situation has been amplified 100x in movies. It's no longer isolated incidents of private sex. The entire planet has become a nonstop orgy, and the only way to break it up is to kill everyone taking part. One might consider the directors of these movies to be moralizing on our culture of the Endless Spring Break, but most of them feel more like co-conspirators. They enjoy the party too much.

The one that stands apart from the others is Hostel, written and directed by Eli Roth, which makes his participation in Aftershock all the more depressing. It's clear that he signed on because he's a guy who likes to show gore, and this a movie that gives him a lot of opportunities to kill people off in unusual, splattery ways. His acting is not great, but not terrible, either; he's no better or worse than anyone else in the movie. Those who can't stand Roth -- and there are a lot of you -- will likely enjoy the way this film puts him through the ringer. As someone who likes Eli Roth and really likes his first two films (Cabin Fever and the original Hostel), I'd like to see him get back to making movies that are about something instead of playing godfather to ugly, self-satisfied stuff like this.

Aftershock is doggedly determined to prove that the world is awful, but shows no interest in taking responsibility for its own awfulness. It's all treated like a joke on the part of the filmmakers, and there's something even more cynical and disturbing about that. Plenty of movies have accomplished this more successfully in the past. Look at Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which had the courage to be truly awful and put its money where its mouth is. There is no sense that everyone was standing off camera laughing while they were shooting that movie. With Aftershock, though, you can feel that everyone wants it to all be "fun." López and Roth enjoy every gruesome death, even when things get way more mean-spirited and rapey.

Yes, at a certain point in Aftershock, the chaos of natural disasters ceases to be the biggest threat, giving way to a city overrun with convicts who escaped the prison during the earthquake. They start murdering people and raping the women while characters are forced to watch, and it's at this point that the movie segues from stupid and ugly to reprehensible. What is the purpose of this shift? To show that humans are worse than any force of nature? We get it. "We're them, they're us." Or is it to demarcate the point at which things get truly ugly -- when, in the words of Detective Marcus Burnett, shit gets real? Because if that's the case, what are we to make of the 30 minutes of everyone dying horribly? Is that part still supposed to be "fun?" Because if that's the case, what are we to make of the first 30 minutes of the movie when everyone is getting drunk and partying? We have the party fun and then we have the murder fun, but we're supposed to draw the line at raping fun. Not buying it, Aftershock. The movie never actually changes its tone, just its degree of ugliness. As such, it all gets treated as kind of funny. And that's sicker than anything the filmmakers put on screen.
In most other ways, Aftershock is entirely competent. The performances aren't very good, but no one even has a character to play -- they are just walking bags of blood waiting to be burst open. The effects are good. Despite the fact that we're witnessing the destruction of an entire city, the film feels small in scale; I suppose that could be justified by the choice to remain with this one group of characters, even though it's more realistically a function of the budget. López has an annoying tendency to shake the camera to simulate chaos, because apparently the walls and buildings falling down around the characters doesn't suggest "chaos" enough.

Had Aftershock just been a movie about things falling on people -- the splatter equivalent of a '70s disaster movie -- it would be a stupid but forgettable effects reel. By adding in all the extra ugliness, it sticks in the brain for all the wrong reasons. Eli Roth has already made two movies about characters who travel to foreign countries and encounter the darkest, most evil side of humanity. Why he felt the need to revisit that same theme in a movie that's no good I cannot understand.

And of course I shouldn't have expected it to end any way other than it does, but the movie probably should have just finished with a big title card that reads "FUCK YOU."

Well played, Aftershock. And fuck you too.


  1. This is one of those awesomely bad reviews that Ebert used to write that makes you want to check it out.

    Only to shower and hate yourself later.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Damn I want to see the ending just to know what kind of "fuck you" it was. :-)

    Problem is judging just by recent news, this movie may not be off the mark. It's runaway prisoners rape women....but do any of them film it and put it on YouTube?

    1. It's not interesting or clever. It's exactly the ending you see coming as you watch the movie.

      I agree that rape happens. I don't agree with Aftershock that it belongs in a movie that wants to lump it in with "fun" gross-out gags and an overall silly attitude.

  3. Though you rarely (maybe never?) explicitly say "DO NOT WATCH THIS" I really appreciate the columns like these where you come close - as someone who has a fairly good understanding of your tastes and how they align with mine, it's nice to know when I can safely avoid something. ESPECIALLY horror with its extensive "so-bad-they're-good" subgenre - it can be hard to pick out the ones that only want to rape you.

  4. Thanks for the warning Patrick. (I personally hate Roth's movie Hostel too, in fact I think the only thing of his I have ever liked was his fake trailer for Thankskilling in Grindhouse)

    I hate violent movies like this that don't seem to have any point, say what you will about the Saw movies but at least they were trying most of the time, with varying success.

  5. This movie pissed me off. I was really enjoying the first act. If the whole movie had taken place in the club that would have been fine by me. When the carnage started I wasn't really laughing but I got that it was playing for laughs, for instance when the severed hand is kicked about by fleeing party goers. Hilarious stuff. Not really. But, okay. The TWO rape scenes though were just bullshit. I'm really getting tired of every other film having rape scenes in them for one thing. But, where it's done right (Last House on the Left; Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), I'm uncomfortable, but I know that it belongs in the film. But, in this movie I'm not really disturbed or uncomfortable, I'm angry at the filmmakers for ruining their film. Those scenes do not fit at all. They even try to make a joke of it by having Eli Roth's character as he's trapped under a rock limply throw a rock at the rapist after the first rape and get's set on fire for it. How f'ing funny. And then the second rape where we get a full on 30 seconds of bare-man-assed explicit raping on screen. Why is this in this movie? I don't know enough about film to know why it was done wrong, I just know that it was. If they felt they had to do it I'm sure there would be a better way of doing it, a way that didn't involve giving the middle finger to the audience.