Eli Roth on his bleak ‘Aftershock,’ Ugly Americans and the future of cinema

Eli Roth (next to Lorenza Izzo) co-wrote, co-produced and co-stars in "Aftershock" Credit: Radius-TWC
Eli Roth (next to Lorenza Izzo) co-wrote, co-produced and co-stars in “Aftershock.”
Credit: Radius-TWC

Eli Roth hasn’t directed a feature since 2007’s “Hostel Part II.” But he’s been busy. He’s enough of a name to put his name on films (like “The Last Exorcism” and its sequel), and handle “Hemlock Grove,” the Netflix horror series that did even better than “House of Cards.” He co-wrote, co-produced and co-stars in “Aftershock,” directed by Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez, which concerns the aftermath of a massive earthquake, not unlike the one that wreaked havoc upon Chile in 2010.

Was it always the plan to let Nicolas Lopez direct it?
I’m a big fan of Nicolas Lopez’s Spanish language movies. He made some terrific romantic comedies, one called “Que Pena Tu Vida,” which translates to “F— My Life.” There’s “Que Pena Tu Boda,” which is “F— My Wedding.” And then there’s “Que Pena Tu Familia,” which is “F— My Family.” We jokingly called this “F— My Hostel.”

What convinced you that a romantic comedy director could handle horror?
I know when someone’s a good director. Part of being a talented producer is knowing who would make a good director. And a good director can direct in any genre. But Nicolas has a dark side. There’s a dark side to his romantic comedies, too.

Why did he want to do horror?
He started describing for me what it was like living through the 2010 earthquake [in Chile]. It was so horrific. We thought instead of making the Oscar version of this, we’d make a realistic version. We’d use it as the basis for a thriller and fictionalize it. It’s all based on things that really happened. Society really unraveled in a matter of minutes. One of the things about shooting in Chile was that a lot of it was still destroyed by the earthquake. The set was already designed for us. They’re slowly repairing, but something things they’ll never be able to fix. They’re too damaged. There was one scene where I was pinned under a rock and I looked around and said, “Wow, the art department did an amazing job.” [Lopez] said, “Ha ha, gringo, art department. This is real!”

Beyond the earthquake itself, this has a pretty bleak worldview.
We talked about Hitchcock and “The Birds,” and about how “The Birds” is about the randomness of life and how terrible things happen to you for absolutely no reason, with no explanation before, during or after. For me that’s what life is. Life can be about dodging these horrible events that happen to us. And then you die. I think that’s the unfortunate reality of how it is. How we choose to live in between that is what makes up our lives.

Your films tend to have Ugly American roles in them. The character you play here is a bit different.
I don’t think there’s anything Ugly American about him. I just think this is a modern single dad. I just turned 41, and I have a lot of friends who are getting divorced. And they’ve been out of the game for awhile. They’ll say to me, “Oh I met this really cool girl, I got her number and I called her.” And I’m like, “What?! You didn’t text her?” They have no idea how much the game has changed. I wanted to write a character like that, who was a dad and nice and sympathetic. He has no idea what to say to girls.

Some people criticize your characters for being Ugly Americans. How do you feel about them?
Obviously I like the characters, because I wrote them. I think that my characters are honest characters. They’re not characters who try to please everybody. They don’t always say things that are politically correct. They behave like people. People in life aren’t always politically correct; they don’t always do the right thing. And I find so many movies boring because the characters are watered down. And that’s what I try to write. It’s not for me to judge.

This is being released on video-on-demand in addition to select theaters. How do you choose how many theaters and on how many home system platforms to release a film like this?
The question is what’s the right amount? Two years ago people we’re asking me why I was doing a show with Netflix. Now everyone is going crazy trying to get their show on Netflix, because you get incredible creative control. You can make a show that really captures the cultural zeitgeist. With “Aftershock”, which is the first Chile-wood movie, do you want to go up against “Iron Man 3″? Or do you want to go right to the target audiences, and have it available on Thursday night at midnight?

There might be a lot of people who don’t live near a cinema, who have a great home theater setup and would rather watch it at home. I saw the piracy numbers on “The Man With the Iron Fist.” It was staggering. That movie made $15 million in the box office. But it was like No. 2 on the torrent sites — the most downloaded movie after “The Dark Knight Rises.” Clearly the desire to see the movie was there, but they just didn’t want to pay for it. But if there was the option to watch a copy in their house, would they have? If a third of those people had watched the movie on VOD, would it have done a lot better? If you can get it on VOD, it’s a very viable way to make a profit. If they can’t make a profit, then people are going to stop making films.


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