Recent events have shown that, sometimes, horrific events can bring out the best in people — that tragedy occasionally invokes in a bitterly divided country a united sense of selflessness, and a putting aside of differences to work towards the common good. The gory, nasty, somewhat comic thriller “Aftershock” goes the other way. It’s a portrait of humanity at if not at its most base, then close to it. There are a handful of decent people in its midst, but most are either overtly evil or simply concealing their evil till later.
Co-writer and co-producer Eli Roth co-stars as an American in Chile who, like the doomed collegiates in “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel,” is arrogant and entitled, treating the rest of the world as playground for hedonistic experiences. He’s less obviously terrible than past characters: a preppie dork who squeezes in time at a winery and, when hitting up the clubs, very badly hits on mystery cameo star Selena Gomez. When at an underground club with his two native friends, a massive earthquake hits, endangering him and the motley crew of grumbling stereotypes with tumbling debris. Escaping to the street proves no safer: Society has quickly collapsed along with many of its buildings, and gangs of violent rapists roam the street, hungry for scantily clad victims.
Roth and his fellow screenwriters don’t stop there. They keep hitting our cast with one unspeakable horror after another, slowly picking them off. Seeming protagonists perish earlier than expected, some more gruesomely than others, and it soon becomes apparent that no one is safe, possibly not even the virginal prude typically destined to survive. Before its initial wave of mutilation, “Aftershock” is a broad comedy. Once the carnage begins, it turns into a different, sicker kind of comedy, with extreme tonal shifts and a lack of humanity that becomes comedic in its nastiness.
That’s in keeping with Roth’s other work, whose satirical bent, especially toward entitled American spirits, tends to be undervalued. Even a film only co-written by him — he hasn’t directed a feature since 2007’s overhated “Hostel Part II,” although at least three others are allegedly in the works — shares this quality, as well as a bemused hopelessness when even nice characters fail to make it out alive. But the film, helmed by Nicolas Lopez, lacks his craft. It’s murky, technically slapdash and soon runs out of novel story twists. By the time one characters is revealed to be a secret psychopath — whoops! — the “hilarious” downer ending couldn’t come sooner.