There are very few things that reach the same high level of disappointment as a movie whose premise is fantastic, but the final product is nowhere close to matching its potential. Two horror movies that I can think of that suffered from this lack of execution are 'The Happening' and 'The Purge.' The concept behind the earlier title – a sickness is going around that causes the host to immediately commit suicide in the quickest fashion – was ruined by an awful screenplay. The concept of the latter title – to keep crime down, one night each year the people of the United States are allowed to do whatever they want without consequences; the bad folks murder and plunder, the good go into hiding – fell victim to a too-low budget. 'Aftershock' has a great premise at hand, but like 'The Purge,' it's obvious that concessions were made due shallow pockets.
Co-written, produced, and starring Eli Roth, 'Aftershock' takes the format of the movies in his 'Hostel' franchise – the first act is an enticing commercial for international vacationing (only without the gratuitous sex and nudity), then it turns into a nightmare. Set in the real world, we follow a group of six international vacationing partiers through a few days in Santiago, Chile. Late one night, a major earthquake – not unlike the 8.8 quake that shook Chile in 2010 – hits while our group of central characters is partying at a thumping, vibrant club. As you would guess from the film's title, the gang must survive by enduring the aftershocks. In this way, 'Aftershock' is a disaster movie, but Roth and company add a horror twist that makes the scenario even more terrifying.
Based on actual scenarios from Chile's 2010 quake, the group must try to get to high ground in case a tsunami is to follow and the only way to do so is to make their way through the dense streets of Santiago. As with many great horror films, the question becomes: What's the bigger threat – the aftershocks and fear of tsunami, or the people that they're surrounded by? Wild looters. Paranoid home owners and parents. Escaped convicts from the city's damaged prison. Are those things a bigger threat than the rumbling ground beneath their feet or miles of water that might rush inland?
Some sources claim that 'Aftershock' was filmed with a $2 million budget. After seeing it, I'd guess that it was under $1 million. There are a few big special effects shots, but nothing that can't be done with the sweet (and free!) "Action Movie" VFX phone app. Using mostly practical effects, a few of the sets are rather large, but the production value never feels large. There isn't much authenticity to them. Aside from Roth and a random and insignificant cameo by Selena Gomez, the international cast consists of mostly no-name actors. These limitations are the leading reason for 'Aftershock' not meeting its potential. Had there been a larger budget, then it would have looked better, had the feeling of a wider scale movie and contained more grandiose sequences – not to mention that familiar and stronger actors could have been cast.
'Aftershock' isn't horrible, but it's also not as good as it should be. The idea of taking a horror direction with a disaster flick is awesome – but 'Aftershock' ultimately falls flat.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay has placed 'Aftershock' on a Region A BD-25 that's housed in an Elite keepcase. Included in the packaging are $2-off coupons for 'The Dead,' 'The Divide,' 'The Crazies' and 'Scream 4' on Blu-ray. The coupons expire on 11/1/13. After inserting the disc, prior to the main menu are three unskippable vanity reels and three skippable trailers - 'Solomon Kane,' 'Pusher' and the (red-band) 'Only God Forgives.'
'Aftershock' has been given the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 treatment. Shot with crisp digital cameras, the video quality is decent, but not as good as it should be.
The sharpness waivers throughout the whole picture. At times details are highly visible, revealing great make-up and costuming. Other times, the shots seem very soft, as if filmed out-of-focus. Portions of the screen are blurred and foggy. Fine details are eliminated by a smudging haze.
Colorization is strong and useful. The first 30 minutes of the film bounces around from overly saturated night club sequences to beautiful landscapes tourist sequences. Seeing the two side-by-side makes it apparent that the over saturation was a directorial decision. Colors flood the first act of the film, but blacks consume the second and third acts.
With the majority of the film taking place during the late night and early morning hours following the quake, black levels are given countless opportunities to show how strong they are. Unfortunately, the the films final scenes (beginning at the 73-minute mark) are set in tunnels below Santiago that, for some reason, repeatedly crush. Crushing is nowhere to be found before that. This is the only solid flaw to be found in 'Aftershock.' Noise, bands, and aliasing are not a factor.
'Aftershock' has been given a lone 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Containing a great amount of dialog in Spanish, the English-translation subtitles are automatic. There's very little in this track that impresses. For the most part it's completely average.
The vocals and effects seemed to be much louder than other Blu-rays. I kept the volume about 25 percent lower than I do with most Blu-rays. Even then, the club music that plays was very loud. During these scenes where the music levels are raised high, the vocals and effects are not trumped, but the music is so loud that it will make you want to adjust the volume accordingly.
A lack of dynamics makes this mix purely average. There's no imaging and almost no variation between channels. It literally sounds like a mono mix being spread to all channels. There's lots to hear, but it's not at all separated from the other sounds.
I'm typically back and forth with Eli Roth's films, but 'Aftershock' seemed to be the most compelling of them all. The concept – a horror movie disguised as a disaster movie – sounds like a great blend of realistic horror and true fear. Unfortunately, the extreme indie route hurt the idea. The tiny budget limits the grandeur. Compromises must have been made. As recent low budget foreign horror movies (like 'Mama') have shown, it's possible to get studio funding for these things. Instead, 'Aftershock' fails to meet its potential and ultimately ends up two notches above a Syfy Channel movie. The video quality is inconsistent, bouncing back and forth from good to mild. The audio quality is purely mediocre, the flat track coming across as lazy. Aside from the commentary, the two featurettes are throw-aways. All-in-all, I'm glad that I watched 'Aftershock' to put to rest my curiosity, but it's far from being one worth owning. The best recommendation I can give is as a rental.