May 10, 2013
Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolás López, Eli Roth
Eli Roth as Gringo
Andrea Osvárt as Monica
Ariel Levy as Ariel
Nicolás Martinez as Pollo
Lorezna Izzo as Kylie
Natasha Yarovenko as Irina
Aftershock stars Eli Roth as Gringo, a young American businessman being guided around Chile by his new Chilean buddies Pollo and Ariel, and the film spends what might seem like forever to a twitchy horror fan developing their friendship and particularly Roth’s character. I completely bought it.
Roth actually has 23 acting credits on IMDB, none of which I remember except for Inglorious Bastards, and my only memory of Roth there was his standing next to Brad Pitt looking serious. But in Aftershock, Roth grounds the story with a completely natural and hilarious performance as that successful but completely clueless friend we all have who needs pickup lines fed to him and takes phone calls from his daughter while making out in a club. All the time spent doesn’t mean the three characters have much depth; in fact they might as well be the three amigos from The Hangover. But we spend so much time with them and their new female friends Monica, Kylie and Irina, all played by a reliable foreign cast, that when the walls finally fracture I honestly did not want any of them to die, a small triumph given the genre here.
I caught myself laughing more than most comedies in recent memory as Roth cracks “Jews are not meant for tragedy, we don’t handle it well” and to a surprise female cameo “You have a boyfriend? Cool!” After we learn something endearing about each character, such as Ariel’s male weight issues, some causes of Monica’s anxiety and that Irina and Gringo both loves their kids, the comedy is over with and we’re dropped into mayhem in a well choreographed and inventive disaster scene. The carnage here from director Nicolás López doesn’t come near Roth’s Hostel pedigree but creates a very real feeling of chaos, panic and violence, like a disaster movie that actually shows you people dying gruesomely in a building rather than flying over it in a glossy CGI show. One could argue that the latter à la 2012, Deep Impact, etc. is more exploitative than a more realistic view such as Aftershock.
The story of the double trio’s survival has its share of voyeuristic and nauseating moments as they encounter deadly buildings and sadistic killers and rapists, but director López carefully chooses not to portray any of these characters as psychotic caricatures but more like real human beings who are who they are in a brief stretch of anarchy. And as characters get killed one by one (spoiler alert, people die in this film), each gets to make a poignant choice that we hope we would all be brave enough for in a real disaster. Nicólas Martinez’s Pollo and Roth shine in their moments of hopelessness as two people not screeching in the face of death but simply wishing there was some other way.
Eli Roth has been the topic of heated Internet debate recently for his involvement with the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove. Whether you worshipped it like a used Jennifer Lawrence kleenex or hated it like the Westboro Baptist Church at…anything, it’s easy to forget that Roth’s filmmaking success is the stuff of classic Hollywood: a Super 8 wunderkind who even won a student Academy Award and paid his dues until he was able to raise the money to shoot a low budget film that made him a horror household name. And in recent interviews for Aftershock, Roth revealsAftershock is meant to be a turning point in the resuscitation of indie films to compete with Hollywood blockbusters.
Shot on a reported $2 million budget, Roth and company hustled their way to produce a horror disaster film that never feels low budget or cheap. From using SLR cameras anybody can get at Costco (albeit with very good lenses that probably cost more than your car) to filming in Chile where Roth observes “They don’t know that you need 10 people to do this job, so two people do it,” Aftershock is a another milestone in the new ability of talented, trained filmmakers to use technology to keep budgets low, keep creative control and distribute their finished work directly to a target audience.
Whether it’s the Veronica Mars movie, the Zach Braff Garden State follow-up or even the shockingly amazing MōVI Steadicam alternative, the shoot anywhere with anybody anyhow indie film movement is picking up force for better and for worse. For its part Aftershock is also releasing with a same day strategy on VOD, iTunes, DIRECTV and a limited theatrical run although web programming might be a foreign concept to Roth because finding where the film was opening in California was horrifically painful. It’s called Fiverr Eli Roth, try it.
Regardless of whether the weekend box office numbers ultimately show an indie film coup, Aftershock is a fantastic disaster horror film, an atypical one in which the audience will never scream at the screen because the characters make random, idiotic choices. Instead, Aftershock makes you cringe when regular people trapped in violent and terrifying chaos make all the right choices and pay a horrific price anyway.