Producer Eli Roth channels Roger Corman with cheapo disaster flick
When his Nintendo Wii flew across the room and hit his collection of South Park dolls that’s the moment writer-director Nicolás López realized that a major earthquake was hitting his Chilean homeland. During the Q&A portion that followed the U.S. premiere of his latest film Aftershock, López recounted the 8.8 magnitude quake that hit Valparaiso in 2010 and the tsunami that wiped out more than one thousand residents. He was working on a romantic comedy at the time when the South American country was rocked by the massive earthquake.
Flash forward two years and the arrival of Aftershock. The film marks López’s English-language debut – he was so excited that the title card had “Directed by Nicolás López” as opposed to having the words “Una pelicula de Nicolás López.” It’s a disaster flick that explores the horror and wickedness of what happens to friends and acquaintances that are spending their holiday visiting Santiago and Valparaiso.
Borrowing from the 2010 quake, Aftershock recreates some of the events, including a nightclub incident where one of the patrons actually lost both hands, the result of falling concrete and overturned cabinetry. But don’t mistake this for some Hollywood-stylized docudrama, the type we’re likely to get once the eventual trapped Chilean Miners film gets made. Nope, López’s film has a trashy quality that would make Roger Corman proud. That famed producer made a career in aping popular films of the time but with his trademark B-movie aesthetic.
During the Fantastic Fest Q&A López pointed out that the special effects driven films of the 1970s look better than most made in the mid-‘90s simply because of practical effects vs. digital effects. It’s why science-fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner stand the test of time as opposed to something like Johnny Mnemonic or Freejack. So rather than take his cues from Roland Emmerich’s “Disaster Porn Trilogy” (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012), López’s micro-budget disaster flick has more in common with disaster-thrillers Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.
Working with an acting ensemble that López has directed numerous times before in films like Santos and Fuck My Life, Aftershock has Eli Roth as its topline talent. Roth, who produced and also co-wrote the script with López and Guillermo Amoedo, has a working knowledge of tasteless cinema having helmed Cabin Fever and Hostel. But as an actor his biggest role has been that of the Jewish batman in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He plays Gringo, a dimwitted American tourist visiting friends in Chile. Judging from his wardrobe he’s either a single father who has been out of the dating scene for a long time, or he inherited Danny Tanner’s closet from Full House.
Rather than play with horror conventions that most audiences would expect – like having a death occur in the opening scene – López takes his time in introducing the protagonists before getting to the disaster-horror portion of the proceedings. During the first thirty minutes we see Gringo and his two friends, Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez), navigating the party scene looking for obtainable tail. Ariel is a bachelor still hung up on the ex-girlfriend that cheated on him twice. Pollo could best be described as a Chilean Zach Galifianakis. As the three friends hop from party to party, club scene to club scene, they look to get laid with the lowest degree of difficulty as possible. Not helping Gringo is his arsenal of some of the worst pick-up lines imaginable. And Ariel is more fascinated with trolling his ex’s Twitter feed. Lucky for them, then, a multinational femme trio makes its appearance known – California Kyle (Lorenza Izzo); her more sensible half-sister from Hungary (Andrea Osvart, looking like she could pass as Carey Mulligan’s twin); and their fun-loving Russian model friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). After enjoying an afternoon of sightseeing, the six go to an exclusive dance party that night, then all hell breaks loose when the ground starts to rumble.
Making their way out, with one already seriously wounded, our characters find streets blocked, destruction everywhere, and looters running rampant. Then the tsunami warning alarm goes off.
Nicolás López seems to be at ease as he piles on crisis on top of crisis, and nothing is off limits, in terms of grisly atrocities, for our leading characters; the grislier the better in some instances.
Aftershock isn’t aiming to please critics, merely be a crowd pleaser. And it works just as it should: as a cheapie disaster flick shot with a devil may care attitude. The Weinstein Company must have seen some potential as the film was acquired when it screened as part of the midnight features at this year’s Toronto film festival. And it could play well internationally too, as López really captures the colorful atmosphere of Chile, specifically Santiago, the area dubbed as Chilewood because of the filmmaking community present.
Contemporary and tacky all at the same time, Aftershock is the type of picture Roger Corman would be proud to put his name on. Take that for what it’s worth.
Director: Nicolás López
Writer: Eli Roth, López, & Guillermo Amoedo
Notable Cast: Eli Roth, Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Natasha Yarovenko, Nicolas Martinez, Lorenza Izzo, Selena Gomez
Tags: Eli Roth, Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest '12, Fantastic Fest 2012, Roger Corman, Roland Emmerich, Selena Gomez