This review was originally published on October 2, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Fantastic Fest.
It's been five years since Eli Roth directed his third feature, but that doesn't prevent his name from appearing four times in the opening credits of "Aftershock" — as presenter, producer, star and co-writer. Its giddily grisly tone certainly suits the spirit of his "Hostel" films and "Cabin Fever" before those, but director Nicolás López ("Santos") can never quite maintain that same nasty streak throughout the course of his disaster flick.
Our heroes, so far as they go, are strait-laced Gringo (Roth), party animal Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) and sad sack Ariel (Ariel Levy), and we spend nearly forty minutes of inane build-up as they all try, however awkwardly or aggressively, to get laid on their Chilean holiday. They flick their hands past ladies as if scrolling through the selections on an iPhone screen when not leaving pictures of their own junk on one another's actual iPhones in frat boy-ish pranks. They also sightsee in the city of Valparaiso, where they discover things that will obviously come in handy later ("this cemetery is famous for its underground tunnels!") and act like your typical boorish vacationers in ways that will definitely not come in handy later.
Wouldn't you know it, the night after they pair up with three worthy women — Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), Monica (Andrea Osvárt) and Irina (Natasha Yarovenko) — an earthquake strikes, causing an expected amount of damage and setting the stage for chaos and violence. After the film takes its sweet time following nearly interchangeable characters, it's almost a relief to see their best-laid plans of escape backfire. Do you think that gruff lift operator they were rude to will prove helpful in a pinch? How about those underground tunnels?
In fairness, Roth and friends aren't exceptionally irritating in their roles, but there's little reason to root for any of them beyond the fact that two of them happen to have kids back home. Of course, none of that really matters once hands are lopped off and kicked around by a frenzied crowd like a soccer ball. At first, it's all fun and games whenever somebody gets hurt, but that's not enough in and of itself to sustain the movie's tension. We're left waiting for characters to die off without much of a vested interest in anyone's survival.
López, Roth and co-writer Guillermo Amoedo then drop this disaster-related mayhem in favor of introducing newly freed prisoners and the relatively unimaginative threat of sexual assault as a plot point. In a film that already struggles to strike a tone between intense and comically cruel as it picks off its cast, that third-act gambit feels like a desperate attempt to amp up the unpleasantness while stalling to make a barely 90-minute runtime.
SCORE: 4.8 / 10
"Aftershock" is now in theaters and on iTunes.