by Patrick Bromley
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.
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.
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.