So, yeah, for a little while there, I split my concentration between watching the movie and weaving together the start of yet another sarcastic, condescending review. ...and then it hit me: "oh, wait, I really like Aftershock."
To be fair, the skeletal structure does look a lot like the Hostel flicks. Throw a bunch of tourists (and, okay, a handful of native Chileans) into an intriguingly exotic locale, watch 'em party for thirtysomething minutes, and then spend the next hour hunting, torturing, and slaughtering them. In Hostel, the central threat was a club of overentitled rich fucks indulging their bloodlust. In Aftershock, at least to a point, the nemesis is a devastating earthquake: modeled after the Chilean quake in 2010 that's the sixth largest ever recorded. If you want to sneer at the general "you say 'party', we say 'die'!" structure as Eli Roth's go-to formula, than whatever, but he and co-writer/director Nicolás López have honed it just about to perfection.
Don't get thrown off by your first impressions. I initially couldn't stomach any of the three male leads -- doofy American Eli Roth, pussywhipped Ariel Levy, and tubby rich boy Nicolás Martínez -- but it didn't take more than a few minutes for them to graduate from obnoxious douches to loveable losers. The women early on are scantily-clad set dressing, but once the female characters that matter take center stage (among them Andrea Osvárt, Natasha Yarovenko, and Lorenza Izzo), they're something else altogether. The guys fall all over 'em, but the women are the ones who are in the position in power here, playing along because they're having a good time too. Friends read as friends. Family reads as family, with all the tension and frustration go along with that . Most horror movies want its red shirts to come across as real people so you have some measure of emotional investment before they're hacked into fist-sized, bloody chunks, and the vast majority of them miss the mark, confusing
I can't possibly convey the scale and scope of the havoc that's wrought throughout Aftershock in a mostly plain-text review. The movie looks as if it had to have been budgeted at least five to ten times its actual sticker price of $1.8 million. We're not talking about Irwin Allen shaking a camera to fake an earthquake. Buildings collapse, crushing terrified people like insects. Huge structures crumble into ruin. An entire city is laid to waste. It's genuinely horrific, with its power heightened further by Aftershock's preference for practical effects work. Even when massive chunks of rock seemingly weighing tons plummet from above, that's almost always accomplished on-set, and it looks a hell of a lot better than any digital wizardry would at this price point. There's nothing cool or fun about the carnage unleashed here. There are survivors of the 2010 quake on both sides of Aftershock's cameras, and they treat the aftermath with deserved gravity and respect. It's not just about racking up a body count; the deaths matter, and anyone can die at any time.
This Chilean town collapses both literally and figuratively, quickly overwhelmed by looting, plundering, and fear. Society crumbling like that is briefly a powerful sight. Even though Aftershock already had a hell of an antagonist in the quake itself and the threat of a tsunami lurking in the distance, it sort of swaps that out for more ordinary tormentors after a while. The earthquake certainly still rears its head, but the survivors are hunted by a gang of escaped prisoners, and that's where Aftershock loses me. In a way, the convicts are a force of nature themselves -- swarming in packs, largely interchangeable, all but devoid of names or personalities, propelled by an unknown compulsion to mercilessly destroy everything in its path -- but they sort of come out of nowhere and aren't even a little bit interesting. I know a lot of disaster movies have that same "we have met the enemy, and he is us" leaning, but the shift is abrupt and clumsily executed, and a bunch of "grr! aargh!" tattooed rapists just can't compare to one of the largest earthquakes to ever ravage the planet. Aftershock remains compelling thanks to the strong character work and accomplished performances, but a lot of that third act feels stapled on from a completely different movie.
Aftershock has its flaws: it's awfully uninvolving before the movie gets around to properly introducing its characters, certain elements such as Roth playing a devoted father are clearly established but never really felt, and the overemphasis on cardboard cutout rapists and murderers feels like a misstep in the wake of more uniquely horrific events. Still, for so much of its runtime, Aftershock doesn't look or feel like a movie I've already watched time and again. It's every bit as relentless as you'd expect for a movie with Eli Roth's name above the title, it continually unleashes
Aftershock was shot on tiny little Canon 5Ds, and leaning on DSLRs rather than traditional video camera rigs offers up all sorts of advantages. It kept the production moving really quickly, the small size and weight of the cameras opens up tons of new possibilities, and they could even get away with shooting with whatever light was already available. The downside is that...well, the quality's not that great. Aside from really tight shots, definition and detail are weak. Several notches above anything DVD can deliver, sure, but still soft, smeary, and distractingly digital. The authoring side of this Blu-ray disc is right where it oughtta be, and the presentation does have its moments where it looks terrific, especially those vivid colors under the bright of day. Still, the nature of the photography means this Blu-ray release of Aftershock will never be mistaken for reference quality. Keep your expectations in check.
BD-25. AVC. 1.78:1.
C'mon, it's a horror movie about one of the most devastating earthquakes ever recorded; obviously you're gonna get a hell of a lossless soundtrack out of the deal. The gutteral growl of the LFE rattles everything in the room, making me wondering if my obnoxiously large subwoofer is capable of registering on the Richter scale. Buildings crumble and debris scatters from every direction. Terrified screams fill the surrounds. Some effects are unmistakeably discrete, grounding the havoc in a real sense of place. Dialogue is surprisingly clean and well-balanced throughout it all as well. Atmospherics aren't as pervasive as I would've thought, and there's a greedy little kid in me pounding on the table and shouting "more! more! more!", but I'm definitely impressed with what's been delivered here.
Subtitles are served up in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish. Commentary aside, there are no other soundtracks.
The Final Word
Aftershock takes a little while to fully dig its hooks in, and largely shifting the emphasis away from a devastating earthquake and directing it instead towards a small army of interchangeable, escaped prisoners is kind of a dramatic misstep. Still, this Chilean thriller is brutal, unpredictable, horrifying in the most primal of ways, and very much Recommended.