Nowadays, in the age of ‘destruction porn’, a solid survival/disaster horror is hard to come by. The main stream of disaster genre has been taken over and beaten to death with the likes of Roland Emmerich with their epic slant, bloated budgets and overwhelming pathos, so that it was even more refreshing to have watched “Aftershock” directed by Nicolás López. It turns out, a solid disaster flick requires only a creative touch to bring about the suspense and terror, not millions of dollars.
“Aftershock” plays it straight with a bunch of young characters (mostly unknowns and Eli Roth) being thrown together to wander around Valparaiso, Chile. While they are out enjoying life, sex, drugs, and alcohol they are caught unawares by a powerful earthquake that swiftly turns the holidays of their lives into the worst kind of nightmare. Not only will they have to face the immense power of nature by trying to survive around collapsing buildings, fires and related ‘natural’ threats, but it will be other survivors and escapees from the destroyed prison they will have to fear the most.
It is my personal belief that, contrary to popular opinion, the B-movie look in actuality adds immense value to “Aftershock”. It turns out we don’t need to resort to flooding the screen with special effects to build the sense of danger; what we need is a refreshing look at the genre. I couldn’t help but draw immediate parallels between “Aftershock” and “Hostel” in terms of the story progression and handling of the characters. In fact, the film plays out almost exactly like a horror movie with the extensive exposition in the first act, the major left turn the story takes with the earthquake, and with the aftermath drawing vastly from the slasher genre.
I don’t quite understand the universal criticism towards “Aftershock” for being a cheap knock-off, where in reality it makes for a quite decent horror with all the genre staples, such as the archetypical cast of characters, typical plot points, ‘the unlikely heroine’, the prison inmates as the threat, copious amounts of violence and gore with a healthy dose of humour, and a strong use of practical special effects. If seen in that light, the complaints about cliché characters and the cheap look seem completely out of place. If anything, “Aftershock” among other slashers looks quite unique and refreshing.
Hypothetically, if this film had been done on a 9-digit budget, I don’t necessarily think it would be any better than it is now. Sure, it’s nice to look at CG buildings crumbling and the tsunamis laying waste to everything in their path, but horrors don’t really need that to be memorable. “Aftershock” most certainly is with its classic practical tricks and little restraint with violence. In combination with a cast of characters being picked off in a suspenseful and imaginative way, “Aftershock” kept me at the edge of my seat all throughout its running time. A tight ride it was.