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Some of the best horror stems from mining the paranoia of
real-life situations. Part of the power of a film like Eli Roth’s HOSTEL stems
from the thought that somebody might actually be sick enough to put something
like the Elite Hunting club together. The background of AFTERSHOCK—which stars
Roth but is not directed by him—lies in truth, specifically the devastating 8.8
earthquake that struck Chile in 2008.
Within a few minutes, much of the country was reduced to
rubble, and the entire infrastructure completely collapsed, to the point where
prisoners escaped from the jails to wreak havoc in the streets. AFTERSHOCK
(which world-premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was
picked up by Dimension for U.S. release) fuses that reality into an intense
fictional horror film that is quite unsettling.
Roth plays Gringo, an American tourist visiting his Chilean
friends Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolás Martínez). While nightclubbing,
they meet Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), nonstop party girl Kylie (Lorenza Izzo)
and her strict sister Monica (Andrea Osvárt), who join them on a tour of the
coastal town of Valparaíso. On their last night of partying, the earthquake
hits and all hell breaks loose. A tsunami warning is issued, and the race is on
for the survivors to try and make it to higher ground before it’s too late.
Chilean filmmaker Nicolás López directed AFTERSHOCK from a
script he wrote with Roth (also one of the producers) and Guillermo Amoedo, and
the unlikely pairing of López (known primarily for Chilean comedies like
PROMEDIO ROJO) and Roth’s sensibilities makes for an interesting mix of cinema
styles. Much like in HOSTEL, López and Roth take their time to let you get to
know the characters; the lighting and mood of the first hour is bright and
sunny, and you’d swear you were watching something like an Adam Sandler film.
Once the earthquake hits, of course, everything gets dark and the tone
Roth has had supporting roles in the likes of INGLOURIOUS
BASTERDS and GRINDHOUSE, but this marks his first chance to play the lead in a
feature. He shouldn’t be quitting his day job anytime soon, but he holds his
own in the role, and it’s fun to watch him strike out with the ladies and basically
be a geek on screen. As Pollo, Martinez is the real breakout star here, and
he’s often hilarious to watch.
For the most part, AFTERSHOCK comes highly recommended, but
one major—almost fatal—flaw crops up during the film’s final act. It won’t be
given away here, of course, but it’s a plot turn that makes the action of the
previous 20 minutes seem even more unlikely. It feels like this twist is there
for the sake of having a twist, rather than being logical to the situation.
Which is a shame, because the film is an otherwise solid horror debut. What
does work brilliantly is the sense of dread and doom that piles up in scene
after scene once the earthquake hits. López and Roth are clever enough to give
you false hope that things are going to get better for the characters, only to
have the situation fall even deeper into despair at every turn.
AFTERSHOCK is a pretty intense and chilling experience. It
is first and foremost a popcorn film, of course, but it’s also a brutal
reminder that the breakdown of civilization and the advent of chaos is just a
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