Eli Roth is a man on a mission, and that mission is to make you absolutely sick of Eli Roth. This is funny, given that his performance in Aftershock, a gore-filled disaster flick he produced and wrote with director Nicolas Lopez, is good enough to warrant sincere praise, due in part to the fact that he plays little more than a nerdy single father referred to only as Gringo who just wants to pick up women as he parties with his two Chilean friends.
Naturally, his plan is interrupted during a party at an underground club when a massive earthquake, inspired by the Chilean Earthquake of 2010 that saw widespread destruction, looting, and escaped prison inmates wreaking havoc on the city, strikes in the early morning hours. From there Gringo and his friends Pollo and Ariel, along with tourists Monica, Irina, and Kylie, seek to escape the chaos while avoiding a murderous band of escaped inmates and the titular Aftershocks.
Going into the film you’re likely to presume that it’s a tongue-in-cheek gore flick, especially given that the tone of the first act is decidedly comedic. Roth’s timid, fish-out-of-water approach toward Chile’s beautiful women, complete with “dad clothes” and an inability to not embarrass himself provides plenty of laughs; Pollo, played by Nicolas Martinez, is the very definition of free-spirited rich kid, delivering numerous hilarious one-liners, often at Roth’s expense; and Ariel, a deluded man recently broken up with his cheating ex, allows for a variety of unique situations that run the gamut from laughably pathetic to endearingly sweet. The setup, however, is almost overlong, spending a good half-hour establishing the personalities of each character before abandoning it all in favor of an incredibly mean-spirited, dark, and violent thriller.
When the earthquake hits, the gore never truly lets up, with people being crushed by giant slabs of concrete, hands being ripped off, and faces being splattered by speeding cars. Had this trend continued, sliding in a bit of humor as the group seeks to survive the night, then the film might be more than just an exercise in pushing every button possible. But shortly after their escape from the nightclub, it takes a dark turn, focusing on the very true events of roving bands of escaped convicts and gang members stealing fire trucks and committing brutal acts of sexual assault, the latter of which are displayed in graphic and cringe-inducing detail. Certainly the assaults are essential to capturing the gravity of their situation, but Lopez eschews subtlety in favor of a more explicit and extreme approach, showcasing the rape in all its violent and jaw-dropping detail. By this point the comedy is non-existent, and any redeeming qualities are thrown out the window.
Aftershock is incredibly dichotomous. Beyond the wildly divergent tone of the first third of the film with the rest, sweeping shots of the Chilean countryside and cities struggle to work against cheap sets that look as if they’re ripped directly from Universal Studio’s “Earthquake” ride, belying the film’s $10 budget and impressive gore effects. At its best its a humorous look at not fitting in, at its worst an exercise in offending sensibilities.