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Review: ‘Aftershock,’ Starring a Nebbish Eli Roth, Plays with Religious Cliches While the Blood Spurts

Review: 'Aftershock,' Starring a Nebbish Eli Roth, Plays with Religious Cliches While the Blood Spurts

When he hasn’t been writing directing or producing some of
the more notorious entries in the horror/torture porn catalogue (like “Cabin
Fever,” “Hostel,” and the two “Last Exorcisms”) Eli Roth has worked on his
parallel career as screen star — perhaps most notably as the Bear Jew, the
baseball bat-wielding, Nazi-dispatching, one-man-Jewish-revenge-fantasy of
Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

So imagine our surprise to find Roth playing the
shirt-tucked-into-mom-jeans-wearing Jewish stereotype of “Aftershock,” which
opens Friday (May 10). Produced by Roth, Brian Oliver (“Arthur Newman”) and
Miguel Asensio, and directed by Chile’s Nicolas Lopez, the shocker is set in
Santiago, where three guys on the make run into what are essentially three
supermodels (Lorenza Izzo, Natasha Yarovenko, Andrea Osvart), and then there’s
an earthquake.

But it’s a bit odd, this very deliberate effort to
emphasize the male characters’
Jewishness — something  Roth’s character
simply states out loud in one scene, apropos of very little. In another, while
trying to get his reluctant buddies to pose for a picture, he coaxes them with
“c’mon, for the mishpucka,” or Yiddish for family. Later, during one of the more
hellacious moments in the film, a character’s Star of David is taken from his
throat and held up to the light in a moment of what can only be regarded as
divinely inspired despair.   

We couldn’t get a
comment from anyone on “Aftershock,” either about the Jewish thing or the
Catholic thing, which itself is even more astounding. During a visit to a
Santiago cemetery, Ariel (Ariel Levy), a native of the city, tells his friends
the story of the orphans’ plot, one which is elaborately decorated with teddy
bears, cards, ribbons, toys and other tchatchkas suitable to a children’s
memorial; the priests and nuns used to have sex in the tunnels beneath the
nearby cathedral, he says, and the newborns were buried here.

Later, a woman makes
the Sign of the Cross and promptly dies
a horrible death; the payoff at the end intends the entirety of Santiago’s destruction to be viewed as cosmic payback
for those crimes beneath the church. It’s a weird juxtaposition of clichés — the supposed gothic awfulness of medieval-flavored Catholicism; the nerdiness
of Jews.

But it’s not as if clichés aren’t rampant in “Aftershock” — beginning
with the kind of elementary morality that has infected horror at least since
Wes Craven was a pup and which Lopez simply seems to be having fun with: Some
characters are in the movie only to act badly, so they can have a slab of
concrete dropped on them during the earthquake. Perceived sluttiness, of
course, is grounds for gruesome death. In fact, the ending — which features the
most prudish character in the film safe and sound (almost) — is so completely
over the top the whole thing has to be taken as a joke. Although it’s a joke
that maybe your mother and the Catholic League aren’t going to find so funny.

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