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FF2012: 'Aftershock'

Much more realistic than 'Last Night at the Alamo'

By Marc Savlov, 2:48PM, Wed. Sep. 26, 2012

Eli Roth, Tim League, Nicolas Lopez
Eli Roth, Tim League, Nicolas Lopez

One of my core movie memories is of my Jewish grandfather taking me to see the film Earthquake when it was first released in 1974. Remember the practical make-up EFX of shards of glass sticking out of that hysterical lady's face? Nightmare city, right? Now that memory has now been supplanted by the entire second half of Aftershock. Yikes.

Directed by Santos/Premidio Rojo director Nicolas Lopez and straight outta Chilewood, Aftershock is the film that Irwin Allen always imagined he was producing but never did. It's The Poseidon Adventure done right, The Towering Inferno minus the silver screen bombast, and Cave In! with acres ossified foetal flotsam. Top that, Roland Emmerich.

Drawing heavily from his own real-life experiences during the calamitous earthquake and tsunami that struck Santiago in 2010, Lopez's film spends virtually its first half allowing us to get to know the five main characters, the better to identify with them when disaster actually strikes. It's an obvious gambit that nevertheless would've probably landed him in Hollywood jail; character development is so passé, especially in a horror/disaster film. Who cares who lives or dies, just so long as they perish spectacularly? Bah! I curse thee, Hollywood profit machine.

Eli Roth (who also produced) plays Gringo, a divorced father taking a time-out from the real world vy visiting his pal Ariel (Ariel Levy) in the Chilean capital city. Ariel's lifelong friend Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) is an overweight chick magnet with cash to burn, and after much comical backstory establishment, the unheroic trio hook up with half-sisters Monica (Andrea Osvart) and Kylie (Lorenza Izzo) and decamp to a seaside superparty. (There's a terrific short sequence of Roth's Gringo as he become progressively more wasted that feels ridiculously spot-on.)

The earthquake hits, the nightclub topples, and Roth and company are left to fend for themselves in a suddenly iPhone-free world chockablock with corpses, criminals, and cut-throat chaos. It's as real as it gets without actual tremblors, but Lopez's gallows humor is in abundant supply. The randomness of life, love, death or survival is the director's 'statement,' but it's the painful realism the cast and crew (including numerous extras) display that shifts the tectonic plates of your heart and gut.

Simultaneously a deep-down exploitation movie, a depiction of friendship under extreme duress, and an examination of what happens whan mankind's wildest fears are realized, Aftershock is drop-dead gore-geous. (Did we mention the whole thing was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II? No? Take that, Hollywood!)

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