‘Aftershock’: Disaster, plus gore

May 10, 2013

aftershock
Having made his name with the kind of horror films that inspired the term “torture-porn,” producer-writer Eli Roth tries to show that there are other tricks up his sleeve with “Aftershock.” Think of it as a 1970s’ disaster movie, spiked with 21st-century horror effects. Irwin Allen meets Robert Rodriguez.

Roth produced, co-wrote and stars in this film by Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez, playing the appropriately named Gringo. He’s an American on vacation in Santiago with a friend he met as a foreign-exchange student, Ariel (Ariel Levy). They’re both under the influence of Ariel’s childhood friend, Pollo (Nicolas Martinez), an unshaven, balding, pudgy party animal with a rich daddy.

For some reason, Pollo is the group’s chick magnet, attracting women with his promises of outrageous VIP partying opportunities. The trio eventually connect with three women and head for Valparaiso, apparently even a better party town. Once there, they wind up in an underground nightclub – when a massive earthquake hits.

Their first impulse is to escape from the club itself, then to figure out what to do. But that’s complicated by the sudden imperatives of the disaster itself: One member of the party has lost a hand and is bleeding to death. And everyone around them is panicking. Suddenly, the principal characters become potential prey to accidents, falling chunks of debris and the increasingly lawless version of society that emerges in this crisis.

There’s a low level of tension as you wait for the inciting incident; it takes more than a half-hour for the earthquake to hit. Then Lopez and Roth cram all the bloodiest action into the last 60 minutes – and they do, vigorously.

Once the earth shakes (with subsequent aftershocks that rattle the buildings and sends more giant cement boulders tumbling), Roth and Lopez line up hazards like dominoes, tipping them one at a time toward the shrinking group of survivors. Meanwhile, there’s also the threat of an impending tsunami.

The violence is garish and explicit, running with blood like a horror movie, minus the elements of sadism that have informed Roth’s previous films. It’s graphic but rarely egregious, except in the sense that the filmmakers seem to derive a certain thrill from squishing likable people.

Compelling? I guess. Exciting? Less and less as the film goes on. You can only listen to so much screaming and crying before it stops having the desired effect (ratcheting up the viewer’s stress level) and simply becomes grating.

“Aftershock” is competently made and effective at making you squirm. That’s as much praise as I’m willing to dish out.

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