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Aftershock (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"Impressively vicious."
4 stars

"Aftershock" is an impressively vicious combination of disaster and horror movies, and I mean about 75% of that as a compliment. The purpose of these movies is to draw forth sharp, primal emotions, and director Nicolas Lopez manages that even in the face of repeated, numbing exposure to the genre. He does that job so well that by the end, fatigue may set in, making one wonder if there's a point to it beyond the wringer.

Things start with an amiable gringo (Eli Roth) visiting Chile, hanging with his friend Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Ariel's friend Pollo (Nicolas Martinez). Pollo may not look like much, but his father is rich, which is how they're getting into exclusive clubs and making time with Eastern European model Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), heiress Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), and Monica (Andrea Osvart), the half-sister along to keep Kylie out of trouble. They're in a Valparaiso nightclub when a massive earthquake hits, and as they climb out of the rubble and carnage, at least one member of the sextet is in urgent need of medical attention. With a tsunami warning sounded and reports of escaped prisoners, it's everyone for themselves, and only a local firefighter (Marcial Tagle) offers much assistance.

It was by coincidence more than plan that I saw Aftershock back-to-back with another movie that spends a fair amount of time introducing the audience to the cast before hitting them with a disaster, but instructive in terms of showing how to do it well rather than run in circles. Even when Lopez and company are setting up locations and such that will be important later on, they're also letting the viewer see the good and bad sides of the characters' personalities and how they relate to each other. The traits assigned may be familiar ones, but they're expressed well; even the moments that seem far from smooth where the viewer may want him to just get to the earthquake already are not smooth in a way that fits the characters. There's enough detail given to throwaway characters that it's actually shocking when they're thrown away.

And some are thrown away in brutal fashion. The earthquake isn't presented as a digitally-rendered god's-eye-view of a city being torn apart, but scenes of chaos and mayhem within the club as it twists out of shape and supports fail. It's a set of scenes where things fail catastrophically, with bare partial seconds to recognize just how bad what's about to happen will be and just enough time to feel shock that Lopez did that to him or her before things are getting worse. It's bloody and horrifying as opposed to something to elicit oohs and aahs, in large part because Lopez seems to favor very tactile practical effects, occasionally using actual sites damaged by a 2010 quake as locations.

Then, just as the audience is through seeing their physical structures break down in the face of nature's power, the intangible ones fall, with the second half of the movie trading the grandiose destruction of the disaster movie for the paranoia and up-close violence of a horror movie. A lot of ugly things happen that run, including the sort of sexual violence that movies not afraid of grisly murder will often sidestep. Lopez is quite committed to people dying horribly, and has an effects crew to make it happen, so in some ways this can feel like a slasher movie where the whole world is the killer. It's thrilling in the right ways - death almost always provokes a reaction beyond "nice kill!"

That's hard to sustain all the way until the end, though. Give the entire cast credit; they all establish their characters quickly enough to gain the audience's interest, if not necessarily sympathy. Roth and Levy give their characters distinct forms of awkwardness, while Martinez finds the right attitude for Pollo to be a jerk without feeling like one. Among the ladies, Yarovenko and Izzo find different ways of being a party girl while Osvart does "might be pretty cool in other situations" well. They all handle their characters evolving and reacting to life-and-death situations without much of a hitch. And in the end, that's why, even though the film is intense right up to the end, it does seem to go a step or two too far. After all the violence and horror, the audience doesn't need anything artificially uplifting, but they've made an emotional investment and the gnawing suspicion that they might not get a return on it starts to take them out of the movie as the end comes and the violence seems to become more arbitrary.

Still, the movie's got a damn impressive sustained peak; it's legitimately shocking several times, and still manages some impressive moments even when it's pushing its luck. "Aftershock" is decidedly not for the squeamish, but in a way, that boldness is welcome. A lot of movies are willing to gross a viewer out, but Nicolas Lopez wants to get at something a little deeper than that surface reaction, sometimes getting there more than an audience might like.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24153&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/12/13 00:33:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2013 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/20/13 action movie fan bery gory blend of horror and disaster but engrossing and worth it 4 stars
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  10-May-2013 (R)
  DVD: 06-Aug-2013


  DVD: 06-Aug-2013

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