TIFF 2012 – Aftershock Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Aftershock (2012)

Starring Eli Roth, Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez, Lorenza Izzo, and Natasha Yarovenko

Directed by Nicolás López

After some sub-standard fair for a few nights at Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight programme, I was in dire need of a fun screening. The latest from Eli Roth, this time in the lead actor role, didn’t stand out to me in the programme as a ‘must see’, but it was shot in beautiful Chile and looked to focus on the chaos that ensued after a devastating earthquake. After an incredibly explicit (in the F-bomb sense of the word) introduction by director Nicolás López the MM crowd was pumped up for Aftershock. Who knows, maybe it would turn out to be the best movie of MM.

Like most disaster flicks, everybody in the story is having a fun time before their world literally falls apart. In this case, the aptly named Gringo (Roth) and his new Chilean friends Ariel (Levy) and Pollo (Martínez) pass their vacation time with drinking, parties, wine-tasting, but most importantly, keeping an eye out for beautiful, single women. The vacation gets particularly intriguing for the bachelors when they meet up with Monica (Osvart), Kylie (Izzo), and Irina (Yarovenko), three beautiful travellers also taking in gorgeous Chile.  The group head off to a happening nightclub to party the night away, but just when the festivities are getting interesting a devastating earthquake rocks the country and the group of travellers are thrust into a life or death situation. Not only do they need to contend with the devastation of the initial earthquake and its numerous aftershocks, but some of the inhabitants of the once peaceful Chilean town seem to be on the brink of insanity and could also pose a danger to the group.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Aftershock is a tale of two halves: the first half is a good setup to the disaster and features some excellent initial pandemonium along with some creative kills and gore, however the second half of the movie meanders, feels disjointed, and features a very unsatisfying twist. Gringo (Roth) and his buddies each seem like well thought out characters as they surprisingly (it’s a disaster movie) have some depth to them. The same can be said, to a slightly lesser extent, of their female counterparts: Monica, Kylie, and Irina. The six characters provide for some interesting dialogue, humour, and overall setup to the disaster. Roth as the mature, kind, do-the-right-thing, Gringo didn’t work for me. He was decent in Inglourious Basterds as a supporting character, but if Aftershock is any indication, I don’t think he has the acting chops to carry a feature film, even a disaster movie. However, the rest of the cast are good enough to not distract from the movie, but I don’t think that any of the performances were real standouts. However a cameo near the beginning of the movie stood out, but for all the wrong reasons. It may just trigger a rant. Has it? Let me check….yes it has.

Why in the hell does Selena Gomez show up at a bar to deliver a few lines of stale dialogue? It was a poor filmmaking decision and ultimately insulting to the audience as we are viewed as idiots who will clap or be excited every time we recognize a famous face. I call this the ‘James Franco Effect’ for Franco’s numerous and pointless appearances in Saturday Night Live skits for which he was not hosting, and the dumb applause that followed from the audience based solely on facial recognition – not for writing, nor for humour. Many movies seem to be inserting named actors into otherwise invisible roles. This is not a trend that I wish to see continue. Aftershock, you guys Franco-ed us damn it! Shame on you! The appearance of Gomez absolutely reeked of somebody owing someone else a favour. She also gets an ‘F’ for her performance in Aftershock, better luck next time.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Sorry about that. As I mentioned earlier, the initial carnage in Aftershock is a lot of fun and was very well thought out. There are some truly surprising and gruesome moments which elicited great reactions from the audience. Nearly everything about Aftershock was enjoyable until after an intense scene involving a funicular. After this López gets hamstringed by his budget and his script. The effects from here on out are mediocre compared to what we witnessed earlier. Also, as some of the characters inevitably begin to die, we realize that we had not spent enough time with those who remain, particularly the women, to really care about them and their fate. Finally, the filmmakers surprise us with a twist at the end of the movie, but only because they straight-up lied to us about a particular character. In order to surprise an audience a writer or director needs to be sneaky, but completely warping reality or changing the behaviour of a character is cheating and certainly feels like that to an audience.

Despite my harsh critique of Aftershock I actually had a good time watching it. Unfortunately this may say more about the quality of the previous Midnight Madness (MM) screenings than it does about Aftershock itself. Come on MM, I love you! Give me some good movies!

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