The "vacationing friends get trapped in horrific circumstances" genre film is nothing new. When we see one of these little gems, we know what we are in for: Boobs, blood, screaming, and over-the-top shenanigans meant to titillate, scare, and gross us out. Or maybe that’s how the Americans do it. So it’s (somewhat) of a pleasure to say that if you’re looking for that type of movie, "Aftershock" might be a nice alternative to the paint-by-numbers aesthetic the Americans would have brought to it. Only mildly exploitive, but in a knowing way that winks at the audience, the film by Chilean director Nicolas Lopez won over fans at the Toronto Film Festival garnering distribution by Dimension Films here in the U.S.. Co-written, co-starring, and produced by director Eli Roth, the film will appeal to American audiences, despite the fact that a third of the dialogue is in Spanish and there are no names except for Roth and a blink-or-you-miss-her cameo by Selena Gomez.
"Aftershock" is about three friends: Chileans Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) and the American single dad known only as Gringo (Eli Roth.) They are traveling around Chile, partying, wine tasting, and carousing when they meet two Russian sisters Monica (Andrea Osvart) and Kylie (Lorenza Izzo) as well as the Ukrainian businesswoman Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). This group of six bonds, as young people often do in these films, mostly because the guys want to bone the girls. After about forty minutes of getting to know the characters (rare in this genre for sure) an earthquake hits and chaos ensues. The six find themselves trying to escape certain deathtraps and survive the looters and escaped convicts that the disaster unleashes.
"Aftershock" does have a few honorable things going for it. it’s honorable in reference to the type of movie it is. Sure there’s the requisite gore for the gore-hounds, but it’s shot fairly darkly so there aren’t too many lingering shots, and quite often, it’s hard to see any of the grossness with any specificity.
While the film is packed with hot girls, I was impressed with the lack of nudity on display. In fact, there are only two gratuitous skin shots - both of men’s backsides. One was used for humor, the other during a brutal rape. That too, was handled a bit differently than most horror films. Here, one character is raped twice. While that is horrible enough, director Lopez does not titillate the audience with nudity and in fact, the first rape is not even shown, only suggested.
The humor in the film is fairly entertaining. This is partially due to the fact that the characters are not total stereotypes and have some likeability. We have Gringo who is a kind of a dweeb from San Diego. Newly divorced, he attempts to sow his oats, but he’s terrible at it. Ariel is a former fat guy who hasn’t quite figured out how to navigate the dating pool, while Pollo is a rich guy whose dad owns half of Chile. The girls are somewhat interesting as well: Kylie is a typical party girl, but mostly as a means of escape, while sister Monica suffers trying to mother her while dealing with her own personal demons. The point is that these aren’t simply cardboard characters. Sure, we don’t dive into their psyches like some intense indie drama, but they aren’t just tropes. And because we get a chance to know them, we care about them when they are threatened or suffering.
Lopez does a good job of keeping the audience on its feet as well. We know that most of this crew is going to accept that this is what these types of movies do, but the usual order of their elimination is anyone’s guess. Even when introducing characters, Lopez keeps what’s onscreen entertaining and fun. All the actors here are engaging and can actually act. This only makes it more horrifying when the earthquake hits and it all goes downhill. From there, Lopez moves at a brisk pace but doesn’t get too frenetic with the proceedings.
Let’s face it, there is no moral lesson here. There is no "point" to a film like this other than to induce laughs, jumps, and squirms. The suspense is palpable enough and the humor just giddy enough that those who like this sort of thing will have a good time. And who knew that Eli Roth was a fairly interesting leading man? His movies might not be my thing, but I’ll watch him shirtless in a pool any day.