Movies

Deathly Despair: The Other Side of Horror in Nicolas Lopez’s Aftershock

Aftershock is a Chilean film produced by Eli Roth and directed by Nicolas Lopez...

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Aftershock is a Chilean disaster-horror film directed by Nicolas Lopez, and written by Lopez, Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo. True to the modern tradition of disaster-slash-horror films, this movie delves deeply into the human psyche, its excesses and wants, and turns those things upside down to reveal the raw, blistering layers underneath.

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The movie begins with three guys traveling in Chile. They eventually pair up with three girls and decide to party together. The movie is set in the present time, and even though the club in the first part of the movie gives you a distinct eighties vibe, complete with disco lights, bikini-clad girls and alcohol galore, the scenes are ripe with indulgence and excess – which is the perfect stage for a disaster to take place.

The movie is somewhat predictable, lackluster in many parts because of the tight focus on a small group of people (three guys and three girls). What redeemed the film, at least for me, was the raw acting and the return to classical conventions in horror: perfect close-ups before kills, extensive exposure of twisted facial expressions, the prolonged projection/representation of physical pain and just the right amount of gore to remind the viewer that things are out of whack, and that paradise is no longer just around the corner.

Another redeeming factor in Aftershock was the sheer amount of human despair thrown in, every minute of the movie.

There wasn’t a single moment of peace, of hope, and this gave me the impression that the characters were actually in a twisted iron maiden of sorts, punctured and being bled out slowly and painfully. The actual disaster in the movie (an earthquake) became such a minor factor that the movie could very well be a sociological film, because it explores so much of human behavior under stressful conditions.

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Was there space for heroism, the kind that we expect when there are villains? Yes, of course. For the most part, all the survivors of the film (Gringo, Monica, Pollo, to name some of them) acted heroically from beginning to end. What made the combination of plain acting and almost cookie-cutter scenes work was the fact that the movie succeeded in portraying ordinary pleasure-seekers in a twisted environment where the type of depravity allowed was beyond the pale. Of particular interest here were the escaped prisoners, who for all intents and purposes, were stuck in the city just like everybody else.

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But unlike the lead characters in the movie, the prisoners acted with their own code of conduct, and their behavior reflected the type of substrata of humanity from whence they came: incarcerated and separated from society, the escaped prisoners acted as if they didn’t belong – in a city half-destroyed by a natural disaster, they still clung to their own rules of survival, which ultimately meant destroying others.

The movie even managed to throw in a heap of sex in the mix, which is a nice touch given the kind of isolation that people experience when they’re stuck in a destroyed city. This is the kind of psychological exploration that is laudable in films, which are too often careless with the portrayal of sex.

But what about the special effects, the good stuff that makes horror, well, horror?

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There wasn’t much gore in the movie, which was surprising since the beginning of the movie showed someone being flattened, with one guy losing a hand. In my analysis, the reduction of overall gore was done to make the gory scenes more memorable. Sort of like creating scarcity within the special economy of the film.

The less you see, the hungrier you become, and when the gore finally comes, you imbibe it  fully and remember it as part of the overall tapestry.

We’ve all seen movies where there was an excess of bullets, strewn body parts and blood everywhere. Too much gore really gets old very quickly – and soon enough, the excess of gore becomes comical. This is a winning point of Aftershock: there’s just enough dust over cracked bones and spilled blood to remind everyone of their own mortality, and the horror of being sliced-and-diced, pinned by concrete, and other such niceties.

Overall, Aftershock is a good ‘introductory’ film to the disaster-horror genre, but its film competence is average, bordering on insufficient. The poor narrative structure collapsed it faster than the earthquake collapsing concrete buildings in that poor Chilean city.

Overall I give this horror flick six stars out of ten, as it is still enjoyable if you’re willing to overlook the overused conventions.

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