AFTERSHOCK (2013, Nicolas Lopez)
A low-quality B-movie with grade-A nihilism. Definitely crushes HOSTEL in the category of Roth’s annoying formula (first third is horny tourists, last two acts are gory violence) by virtue of its rip-roaring pace and Lopez’s staging of the PIRANHA 3D-ish bloody melee. The last 55 minutes are one sustained sequence of pain, almost DESCENT-like (in many ways, all the way through the ending, which I won’t spoil), and there’s an overwhelming helping of misanthropy caked over the entire thing. Even in the first act, when not a drop of blood is spilled, the camera is despising its protagonists for enslavement to their mobile devices, including the ol’ cliche where one tourist points out a gorgeous view to a buddy who’s too busy playing a video game on his phone.
But the planting of this disgust pays off well, not just in that as the mundane bickering reaches its climactic fight between sisters, the earthquake begins, but in the message that as soon as disaster strikes, humanity’s true character is revealed — and it’s ugly. It’s not just me who agrees with this; remember the scene in Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS when Cruise has to fight off a hoard of selfish assholes who are after his car? Imagine that bleak vision of sociology stretched out for an hour, including a distasteful extended rape sequence and a moral code that levels its playing field by showing no mercy to the saints and sinners alike.
I’ve seen criticisms of this nihilistic view of humanity, especially the subplot about the street hooligans who become major antagonists in the second half. But wondering why these menaces aren’t scampering to safety from the damage and impending tsunami is to miss the point, not only of the film’s dark view of society, but of the disturbingly honest idea that these are prisoners who have been behind bars — and now those bars have come down and these men are finally free. Freedom feels good, and the horrifying reality this circumstance results in is that the prisoners enjoy the entropy and relish in the ability to take advantage of it. This is both a disaster movie and a horror film for the good guys, but a welcome sign from the gods for the evil ones. And despite the troubling moments (and shoddy acting) present throughout AFTERSHOCK, it’s that hopelessness which lingers. Like Goddard and Whedon with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, Lopez and Roth have come to the conclusion that the world is not a fine place, and not worth fighting for, and perhaps it’s best just to wipe it all out and hit the reset button.