PLOT: A group of friends in Chile must survive the aftereffects of a massive earthquake, which throws the city into an inhospitable hellscape.
REVIEW: AFTERSHOCK, from producer-writer Eli Roth and director Nicolas Lopez, sits in a subgenre that is rather sparsely occupied: disaster horror. Like the garish, star-studded disaster flicks from the 70s, AFTERSHOCK presents us with a chaotic event that cripples our characters' environment, throwing them into panic and uncertainty, then proceeds to kill them off one-by-one as the magnitude of the event is fully felt. Instead of fires and floods, however, the main cause of fatality is a pack of evil looters whose concern for their city's well-being in the face of destruction comes in a distant second to their more heinous instincts. It's a fairly grotesque movie, providing no sense of hope for a happy outcome, but it's absolutely effective as a visceral experience.
Storyline is the definition of simplicity: An American, referred to as "Gringo" and played by Roth, is visiting two friends in Chile, Ariel (Ariel Levy), who constantly frets over his ex-girlfriend, and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez), whose father is incredibly wealthy, enabling him to show off the city's most luxurious and secretive sights. The three go clubbing, visit vineyards, the usual, eventually coming into contact with a pair of feuding sisters (Lorenza Izzo and Andrea Osvart) and a single mother (Natasha Yarovenko) to whom they attach themselves. Everybody is paired up, and they all become best friends quickly.
The newfound friendship is interrupted one night in a club, when a large earthquake shakes the city. The club is the scene of several deaths, and one of our protagonists loses a hand. Managing to stick together, the group wanders out into the streets, which are smoldering and buzzing with the terrified, the dying and the crazed. And their problems don't even end there: a siren alerts the city to the approach of a tsunami, while besieged police warn the citizens that the nearby prison has been effected by the disaster and now prisoners are fleeing into the streets. It's going to be a long night.
Not unlike Roth's HOSTEL, AFTERSHOCK takes its time establishing the thinly-sketched characters in the first act; they wander around taking in the scenery of a foreign city and make tedious conversation; we spend a lot of time with people we don't really care about. After the inciting incident, however, things perk up, albeit maliciously. After the quake hits, Roth and Lopez kickstart a nightmare that play out in real time (more or less), as our survivors race through the ruined city looking for help or safe haven. This is definitely a nasty piece of work; while not as bloody as the HOSTEL films, AFTERSHOCK is infused with a nihilistic streak that demands each character's death is played for maximum grimness. One such death is of the begging-and-pleading variety that Roth likes so well. There's also a skin-crawling rape sequence that is definitely unwanted, although it's thankfully devoid of too many hideous details.
But there's no denying that AFTERSHOCK delivers on a purely primitive level; none of it is so over-the-top that we can't imagine ourselves in the same ghastly scenario. Lopez directs with a sure hand, and the suspense is considerable in the best sequences. (Although I certainly wish the climactic duel with a villain had been lit better; it's so dark you can hardly make out what's going on. The film won't be beloved by anyone other than devotees of intense thrillers, but for that crown it will deliver the inhumane goods.
As far as the acting goes, it's as natural as you could hope for. Roth actually has one really strong scene where he displays some impressive range; I still doubt I'll ever consider him a "real" actor, but he impressed me in front of the camera more than he has ever before (a short sample, I realize). Nicolas Martinez as the cocky "Pollo" also eventually stands-out, at first serving as the typical jerky comic-relief before being transformed by the seismic event into a person with characteristics deeper than lewdness and arrogance.