"Aftershock" less than earth-shattering — it's pretty bad schlock

Aftershock (2013)
90 min., rated R.

At this point, any film presented, written or directed by "Splat Pack" horror guru Eli Roth (2006's "Hostel" and 2007's "Hostel: Part II") prevents us from wanting to vacation to another continent ever. "Aftershock," his latest independently funded project—which he co-wrote, produced, presented, and co-stars in—is now in the hands of director Nicolás López, working from their script with Guillermo Amoedo. Though Roth's bloody, gory fingerprints are all over it, this is not another "torture porn" item but a subpar hybrid of an Irwin Allen-type disaster pic and horror-exploitation schlock. Merging an ample "Hostel"-like setup with mother nature and man's inhumanity to man bringing on the mayhem, "Aftershock" is an amateur hour and a half that doesn't refresh the genre as the makers probably hoped.

Nice, divorced San Diego father "Gringo" (Eli Roth) and his two obnoxious, tail-chasing Chilean buddies, Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolás Martínez, who could be Zach Galifianakis' South American brother), party their way through Santiago, Chile. Then, at a nightclub, the guys meet up with wild, spoiled 21-year-old Kylie (Lorenza Izzo) and her overprotective half-sister, Monica (Andrea Osvart), along with Russian model Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). Instantaneously, as Kylie and Monica are having an argument, an earthquake strikes. Chaos, tsunamis, splatter, and rape ensue — fun!

The happy-go-lucky, character-building half-hour of setup (four days of wine tastings and decadent rave parties) would prove that the filmmakers want us to get to know and like the characters. But, with the exception of the more decent Gringo and responsible Monica (who's haunted by an abortion she had), these character-resembling types are largely unlikable, flatly drawn, and hardly worth our sympathy, so maybe we're just supposed to root for them to die. Is it too much to ask to give us people who are defined as more than just expendable John and Jane Does? 

For a movie called "Aftershock," the central set-piece of the rumbly earthquake doesn't totally disappoint. It's intensely convincing and bloodycement blocks crush formerly reveling bodiesbut also ridiculous ("I'll buy you a new hand!" one character says to another after said hand has been severed and gets kicked around). If you avoid the trailer, there is also one unexpectedly quick kill involving a character opening a manhole. Furthermore, Roth and his co-scribes should get points for ensuring that no one is safe, to add a hint of unpredictability, but when it comes time for some of these abrasive bores to be maimed and then suffer, forced, borderline-saccharine attempts to make us care (i.e. one calls their father before he/she dies) are pretty futile. As you might expect, this is not an actor's piece. Roth, the only name performer, is actually more endearing than smarmy as Gringo and credibly conveys panic and pain but is no more than competent. It should be mentioned, however, that Selena Gomez makes an amusing "special appearance" as a V.I. fellow American who rebuffs Roth's advances.

Then, if mother nature's destruction weren't enough, the film enters anarchic, pointlessly cruel territory to beef up the exploitation factor with the entry of tattooed, gun-toting murderer-rapists. After a while, it just becomes a desperately grim exercise in watching deeply unpleasant people do unpleasant things to superficially unpleasant people. And the point is… watch out for sub-human escaped prisoners after an earthquake. Ending with a lame, anticlimactic "is it over?" cliffhanger, "Aftershock" should have been gnarly and just pummeled us with primal, visceral thrills to get our hearts racing. It can't even do that right.

Grade: D +