Aftershock is a weird movie in the sense that I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. There’s a lot to like in the film, but I can’t recommend it as a complete work. It has a lot of great components, but it seems oddly intent on sabotaging itself with elements that just don’t belong within its tonal landscape (though I may be taking a bit of a leap by stating that I even know what the intended tone is).
The film, directed by Nicolas Lopez from a script he wrote with Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, begins firmly in Hostel territory, introducing us to the main characters in an extended first act. I can sort of see what they’re going for in these first 40 or so minutes – they obviously want us to invest in these guys. Gringo (Roth) is reeling from a divorce and misses his daughter, rich horndog (Pollo) is out to get laid, and ineffectual Ariel (Ariel Levy) is always on the verge of texting a recent ex who is no good for him.
While the film certainly does a thorough job establishing these characters and the conflicts/dynamics that fuel their relationship, it’s to the detriment of the overall experience. We’re given reasons to root for their survival that should work on paper, but spending so much time with them almost negates it. I’m not sure if the decision was to take a This Is 40 approach to the Hostel formula, but this section of the film plays more like Sideways sans actual human insight. By the time they meet up with their female counterparts Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), Irina (Natasha Yarovenko) and Monica (Andrea Osvárt) we’re ready for some sh*t to start shaking.
And so it does. A massive earthquake strikes Chile and the underground nightclub in which they’e partying is decimated. Soon enough, the gang (more or less) is out on the streets where it becomes evident that humanity itself is the real threat. It’s here that Aftershock really takes off, and boy does it swing for the fences. Lots of blood, lots of tension, lots of batsh*t decisions that pay off admirably, a cable car sequence that had me on the edge of my seat… it’s all good deal of fun. Until it isn’t.
Even during the roller-coaster ride that is the film’s second half, there are some insurmountable tonal miscalculations. The most severe of these is the repeated rape of a young mother at the hands of a local gang. The first time she’s raped goes by fairly quickly; it’s upsetting and unwelcome but you can almost block it out. Then comes the second rape – which is fairly protracted. In fact, the camera lingers on this event for so long I’m not sure what the aim is. Is it suspense? Maybe? One of our heroes is stalking up on the offender after all, and we’re hoping he’ll put an end to it. But, then again, he stalks up so slowly you begin to suspect that the film is actually disregarding his character’s natural motivations in order to showcase the assault at hand.
It comes down to one thing – this moment (along with several others) just isn’t fun. I’m not making any moral judgements on it. I don’t feel any differently about the filmmakers as people. I just don’t want to watch this scene – not in this movie. You can have your gory/fun Irwin Allen inspired romp. You can have a movie that addresses the horrors of sexual assault. I’m just not sure that they can be the same movie. And it’s not just this scene, there are other moments peppered throughout the film that attach themselves like parasites and leech a good deal of the joy out of it.
That’s not to say that there still aren’t things to enjoy in Aftershock, there are. The last shot in particular made me so giddy I almost forgot why I wanted to stop watching the movie entirely just 20 minutes earlier. Aftershock really is that uneven. If they could bottle the feeling I got from the last 30 seconds of this movie I’d be shouting about it from the rooftops. But they didn’t, and something I wanted to love became something I found myself trying to like.