There’s a goodly amount of “When are we going to get to the fireworks factory?” to the first half-hour of Nicolás López’s gamy disaster movie Aftershock. The film features three fairly unlikeable dudes, played by Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez, and horror maven Eli Roth (who also produced Aftershock, and co-wrote the movie with López and Guillermo Amoedo). The boys gallivant around Chile, getting drunk and chasing skirts, until they find three women who are willing to tour historic sites with them by day and party with them by night. Then an earthquake hits, and the heroes and their lady-friends all scramble for safety, while trying to avoid the roving bands of looters and rapists who’ve been loosed from a nearby prison. Right up until the quake, Aftershock is a bland, sub-Hangover comedy about guys on the make in South America. Then finally, blessedly, the ground swallows up these shallow idiots.
To López and Roth’s credit, once the action begins, Aftershock intensifies impressively, and doesn’t pull any punches. The film is extraordinarily gory, playing up the sickening sounds and copious blood-spurting that inevitably follows in the wake of huge hunks of concrete and steel crumbling on top of human bodies. (Crushed bones and severed limbs end up being as much the star of Aftershock as Roth and his two buddies). And López purposefully avoids any of the “triumph of the human spirit” business common to the disaster genre. This is no The Impossible, in other words. As soon as the trouble starts, people of every race, gender, nationality, and social standing get killed, and the good are punished just as cruelly as the dickheads.
Aftershock is most successful in the way it subverts expectations. During that dull first half-hour, López and company do set up who these people are (some have kids, some have rich parents, and all have very specific attitudes about this trip that they’re on), while the movie also lays out the particulars of its location, with its ancient tunnels and old-fashioned cable-cars, all of which come back into play in unusual ways. While that spin is semi-clever in a blackly comic way, it also means that Aftershock becomes perversely predictable after a while. Just imagine what a conventional disaster movie would do, and wait for the opposite to happen.