It's only the beginning
In 2004, Nicolás López directed his first feature film Promedio Rojo, a dark teen-comedy that Quentin Tarantino called “the funniest movie of the year.” Nine years later and having buddied up with horror auteur Eli Roth, the Chilean director looks to plant his roots in the horror genre with his first English-language film.
A group of travellers in
López’ fondness of the romantic-comedy genre is apparent in the initial thirty minutes of his latest feature (which world premiered at Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness.) It’s a peculiarly slow start, and watching a group of typical twenty-somethings (plus 40 year-old dad, Gringo) popping pills, downing shots and scoring (or embarrassingly not scoring) with girls is hilarious – but a bit wearisome. Especially when Selena Gomez pops up to turn down Roth. And especially when it lasts for forty minutes (nearly half of the movie’s running time). But the character development is complementary in interacting with the following events and you’ll be glad to have stuck with it. And hey, it’s a good sell of the director’s home land.
Roth steps back in front of the camera in a lead role for the first time since Inglourious Basterds as an American divorced dad, affectionately-named Gringo. He embraces life as the awkward guy who acts half his age but dresses like the father he is. Each character exploits their own qwerky habits and trivial problems, playing off one another to create a mix of good fun and light-hearted tension. But it’s Nicholas Martinez as Pollo who steals the stage with his garish humour and dominating screen presence.
In former film adaptations of the same title, such as Xiaogang Feng's version of the Great Tangshan earthquake, the premise lies in the natural disaster - the pre-tsunami earthquake, or ‘aftershock’, in this instance. But the raving nightclub saturated in partying locals and tourists is literally churned up within five minutes of on-screen time. Surfacing from the collapsing building appears to be the easy part and it’s all over within quarter of an hour of partygoers being impaled by smashed bottles and speaker stands crushing them to death.
Erupting in chaos and frenzy, the group’s consequential battle is against a city in ruin and turmoil. As convicts escape from the local prison roam the streets like free men and locals become irrational with fear and bear an unfortunate distrust towards foreigners, the tsunami is almost momentarily forgotten. It’s rape, guns and hasty decisions that become the threatening reality. Co-written by Roth and López, this is where influences of the grittiness in cult-classics Hostel and Cabin Fever creep in.
López has described the film as a completed jigsaw of several people’s real life horror stories from
tsunamis. The final hour depicts these events in a relentless string of
shocking tragedies, forming a rapid pace that never lets off. From chasing down
amputated hands to finding aborted babies dumped in tunnels to watching someone
being burnt alive, you wish more time had been devoted to this unrelenting
rollercoaster ride than watching the group chugging cocktails. Chile
The sequence of characters being killed off runs through the motions and their brief but touching moments of emotional despair sets it apart from the generic formula. If the last death sequence isn’t brutal enough, the ending must be a strong contender for the sweetest sour ending in the history of horror.
VERDICT: Aftershock suffers in a strained and slow beginning but is saved by a compelling sequence of unimaginable horrors in the latter half. Toying with horror, laughter and heartbreak, López’ succeeds in tapping into every emotion to create an above average earthquake survival flick.