Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fault Line: AFTERSHOCK


Aftershock is a charmless low-budget horror movie in disaster flick clothes. It starts out looking like it has the potential to become an enjoyable earthquake picture. Maybe the camera will shake and rubble will fly in from off-screen. Maybe some massive piece of set design will crumble on cue and squash a particularly loathsome character and the audience can get a little guilty giggle out of it. But that’s not to be. The characters to which we’re introduced are all at best irritating and at worst loathsome and all the fake slabs of concrete in the world would not be enough to serve up all of the comeuppances needed to satisfy me. But still, the way the characters are turned into nothing more than victims of the movie’s mean-spirited ain’t-humanity-the-real-disaster? mugging is cruel.

The worldview is somewhat recognizable from director Eli Roth’s splatter-filled Hostel films, which get their kicks out of torturing dumb Americans in foreign locales, a concept with at least a hint of satiric intent. Roth co-wrote Aftershock with Chilean collaborators Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, a duo who produced a string of comedies in their native country. As directed by López, the opening moments of this film are pure failed comedy, a loose sub-Apatowian shambles that follows an American tourist (Roth again) and his two Chilean pals (Nicolás Martínez and Ariel Levy) ambling around the country looking for girls at parties. Individually almost tolerable, as a group they’re repugnant, lecherous, vulgar dopes. They meet up with a few nice ladies (Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvárt, and Natasha Yarovenko), tourists who match them for shallowness and for some plot-driven reasons manage to tolerate them. And so the group has swollen in number, but not in depth.

These opening moments stretch awkwardly and improbably to fill nearly half of the film’s runtime. Each second spent with these characters ticked by in emptiness on the film’s part and anger on mine. These thinly written constructs were no more believable than Roth’s acting. I was more than ready for the earthquake to start, let alone the aftershocks. The unconvincing disaster serves up slightly less than the requisite number of collapsed bits of set, shaking shots, and bloody practical effects. If I had trouble caring about the characters as they vacationed together, I certainly didn’t grow fonder of them as they suffered through a gauntlet of contrivances that turns them into little more than props.

The earthquake wasn’t that bad and certainly not the worst of what’s to come. Now, injured and stranded, they have to deal with the roving bands of looters, gang members, prisoners, and other malcontents who feel free to roam the rubble looking to get into trouble. That near-feral locals menace the tourists is a bit troubling, but it’s a theme unintended, no doubt. I’d be less inclined to care if the film were more skillfully made with characters of any kind that were more than crude stand-ins for actual characters in a plot that was more than a lame excuse to limp through some pitiful spectacle and cynically ugly human interactions. Real horror here is not found in the earthquake or the societal aftershocks. No, the only horror is how 90 minutes stretched into an eternity right before my very eyes. By the time it reaches its stupid punchline of a final shot (sadly the only shot close to memorable in the whole production), I was more than ready to bolt away from the screen and let the film start leaving my mind.

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