Tectacular Shift, by Matt Warren
What happened to the Disaster Movie? For a while—let’s call it “The ‘70s”—the genre was incredibly popular. Nixon was president, marijuana was weak and plentiful, and audiences flocked to dingy movie palaces all across our great nation to watch stars like Burt Reynolds, Shelly Winters, and Karen Black navigate catastrophe after catastrophe involving faulty aircraft, upside-down cruise ships, and towering infernos. But at some point, moviegoers lost their taste for this particular brand of large-scale carnage. Now, modern audiences prefer their mass casualties with a hearty helping of bloodless fantasy: aliens, zombies, transmorphers, etc. Enter Chilean director Nicolas Lopez’s new earthquake thriller Aftershock, an entertaining throwback to a simpler era that proves you don’t need the Tesseract to murder civilians when some shaky floorboards will do just as well.
Aftershock’s lengthy first act introduces three late-30s party dudes yucking it up in Chile: dorky Gringo (sometime horror auteur Eli Roth, and one of the film’s producers), portly ladies’ man Pollo (Nicolas Martinez), and lovelorn Kylie (Lorenza Izzo.) Gringo is visiting from the States, and South American buddies Kylie and Pollo are determined to show him a good time. Cue a series of hyperkinetic montages seemingly funded by the Chilean National Tourism Board. Raves! Winery tours! Moped rides! Hot babes! And so on and so on, for what felt like at least 40 minutes. It wasn’t boring, but Aftershock spends so long introducing us to the many sensual pleasure of Chile, I suspected I was being hustled by nefarious power lobbyists Big Empanada.
Eventually our Latin wolfpack befriends a trio of game chicas: uptight Hungarian good girl Monica (Andrea Osvárt), Russian single-mother Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), and Monica’s wild-child half-sister, Ariel (Ariel Levy), pairing off to form a tidy triumvirate of potential love matches. Our multinational fun bunch tours the scenic streets of coastal Valparaíso, laughing it up and only occasionally enduring foreshadowing jump-scares aboard rickety municipal funiculars. Regrettably, none of the characters use these incidents as an excuse to ask, “Are we having funicular yet?”
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. A pleasant night out at the disco goes all pear-shaped, interrupted by a massive earthquake so jarring it manages to shift the tone of the entire film. Valparaíso crumbles into the sea. Society devolves into chaos. Inmates escape from the prison. Maureen McGovern dons a gold lamé catsuit and croons “The Morning After” while a swarthy dude in an Admiral’s uniform sips Cutty Sark and looks severe. It’s fucking bananas. Like clockwork, our six leads begin biting the dust one-by-one—though not always in the order you’d expect.
Aftershock is a fun bit of old school B-movie spectacle, but it gets a few demerits for tonal inconsistency. The sequence involving the prison escapees is particularly ugly and unnecessary, including an icky rape scene that feels way too leering and exploitative compared to the weirdly wholesome violence present in the rest of the film. It was like biting down on a cookie you expect to be chocolate chip, but no, fuck, it’s raisin. And I know what you’re thinking—comparing raisins to rape is perhaps being a little generous to rape. Not so. I hate raisins. They’re nothing but shitty grapes, and I want them as far away from me as possible. In conclusion: equivalency totally appropriate.
In the age of premium TV and limitless web entertainment options, the one thing the movies still have going for them is Spectacle. Aftershock delivers spectacle—of the B-movie extraction, to be sure, but Spectacle nonetheless. It deserves a spot in your Netflix queue. Take the heavy objects off high shelves.