Produced, co-written by, and starring Hostel's Eli Roth, and co-written and directed by native Chilean Nicolás López, Aftershock tells the harrowing tale of a group of party goers that face a devastating earthquake and the chaotic aftermath. Here at Idle Hands we were lucky enough to drop in on Roth and get the details on the film and insights into his methods and concepts, which, are explored throughout his projects. A good time interrupted by sudden death.
The genesis for Aftershock began from a conversation between Roth and López. “We were talking, after Last Exorcism opened, about how I can get movies financed on my name and released as “Eli Roth Presents”. I know he [López] loves horror movies, and I was like Why don’t you do an English-language horror movie? And he was like, “Why don’t we shoot it in Chile?” And we thought, what’s the story, what’s it going to be? And we thought, let’s do something like REC. Something high-octane, high adrenaline: do monsters, or do aliens. But then with him telling me about the earthquake, and the shit that went down that night...We were like, we don’t need to change anything. We just need to put the stuff in order. It’s all right there. And we just started writing it. We wrote it over Skype, with our third writing partner, Guillermo Amoedo, who he had written the Que Pena Tu... movies with.”
Basing an exciting action/disaster movie on a real event might be considered controversial, especially to the Chileans who actually lived through the tragedy, but Roth hasn’t found this to be the case.
“There’s no way the reaction could be worse than 3:34 AM, which was the Chilean art film made one year, like as soon as the tragedy happened they went into production on 3:34 AM. And they said “This is the story of the earthquake.” And the movie was so bad. People were like, “This fucking sucks. This is just terrible!” And they [3:34 AM’s makers] said “Well, the money will go to the victims’ families...” And they made a shitty movie. People were mad the movie sucked.
So we said, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to make the ‘serious’ movie talking about that night, and the survival. Y’know, The Impossible was incredible, but this is very different. We fictionalized it. We wanted to tell an exciting action story, and base it in real events. It’s based on that earthquake, loosely, but it’s not THAT earthquake. We talk about the miners, where the mine incident happened after the earthquake.”
“The Chileans love it,” Roth continues. “The first part of Chile is really fun: you know, the vineyards, and the clubs, and the restaurants, and the girls...They love it. So far the response has been incredible. Because, also, when society falls apart, it’s not Chileans behaving badly, it’s humans. It’s the way humans react when there’s no rules. The prisons break open anywhere, there’s going to be riots, and looting, and rapes, and killing civilians… killing civilians for their clothing. And the tsunami panicking, all those things really happen. So, when we were filming those scenes, in the club, all those actors, everybody had lived through that. Covered in dust, it was oddly therapeutic for them to do it.
“It was weird, you know, Lorenza Izzo was in a club, it was 3:30 in the morning, and next thing you know her and her friends were running through plate glass windows to escape, because it was all going to collapse. And there were shards of glass in all of them, and in their hair. You’re at a club, in the last weekend of summer, so you’re in a miniskirt and heels and you’re dancing and you’re drunk—and you’re literally running for your life minutes later. And she said that the music didn’t stop. And it was surreal.”
“People losing limbs, people getting crushed. Nico told me one story about a girl he knew who was on a first date with a guy. They parked somewhere overlooking the city. The earthquake happened and rocks dropped down, and landed on the car, on top of the guy’s head, and the guy was fully paralyzed. And the girl’s sitting there, and she had to move him to the back seat —this guy she’s on a first date with—and she didn’t drive stick, so she’s trying to drive the car down the hill to get him to a hospital. Which was terrifying enough, even if she knew how to drive stick. We didn’t put that in the movie, but there were so many examples like that, from that night. This is their lives, and you have the right to tell a story about it.”
“By the way, any movie is exploitation if you think about it. If someone is charging money to tell a story, it’s exploiting subject matter in one form or another.
“Latin people love horror movies. Latin Americans have been driving the horror box office. Not all, but they’ve been supporting horror. That’s what drove Evil Dead, the Paranormal Activity movies. It’s incredible, that audience.”
“So we’re not selling it as an art film. We’re not saying, ‘This is the historical document.’ And it makes Chile look really fun—for a period of time...[laughs]. But I think they’re going to love it. So far, the reaction’s been great. They know what to expect from me and Nicolas, too. They know what they’re getting.”
On the subject of horror, veteran horror commentator Roth predictably has much to say:
“I love horror movies because you can break all the rules. You can break rules structurally, you can get away with things that you never could in a mainstream studio movie. We made what we call an independent mainstream movie. We shot it in Chile in English language for the entire world, but part of the fun of shooting in Chile is, if you shot Aftershock in America, it would have cost 25 million dollars, because we did everything practically. It’s 99 percent practical, one percent CG in the movie. And we’re really, really smashing things, and we got to film in locations that hadn’t been fixed or cleaned up since the earthquake. Like the cemetery. I mean, I remember, I ‘m pinned beneath this giant piece of concrete, and I looked over at the tombs, which were stacked up like filing cabinets, and I saw skeletons, and bones, and tombs broken open, and I said to López, ‘Man, art department did a great job!” And he said “Ah, gringo! Art department!” And I was like ‘What?’ He’s like, ‘Dude, we got in here an hour ago. This has been shut down since the earthquake.’
“I’ve always been attracted to stories like that, ever since I was a kid. I don’t know why. I love fairy tales, and ghost stories...they are just the most fun ones to tell. There are no rules. You can do anything to anyone at any moment. And we take full advantage of that. You don’t have to please anybody.
“And I think horror movies are the ones that matter ultimately. If you think about what movies won Best Picture 30 years ago, 35 years ago: ‘Was that Chariots of Fire?’ ‘I guess...’ And then you see Evil Dead being remade, Reanimator The Musical, these movies that really, really hit a chord with pop culture. Sometimes it takes years, but they’re never forgotten. Even if it’s a moment of time of the 80s or the 70s …if it’s a great horror movie, people watch it forever.”
It was a film from the 70s that left its indelible mark on Roth: “The movie that was the most shocking experience was The Exorcist, which I saw when I was six. I thought that it was real. I thought I was going to be possessed by the Devil. My mom was like, ‘Don’t worry. We’re Jewish, we don’t believe in The Devil.’ I was like, but yeah, I’d be the Jew. We have dybbuks. What the fuck’s a dybbuk?! But I was like; I’d be the Jew the Devil makes an example out of, just to show that he can also get you, too. That movie freaked me the fuck out. I threw up after I saw it. I used to have a problem with barfing whenever I saw a scary movie. It’s probably why I make them now, is to pay that forward, to make a generation of people vomit when they see my films. It’s like a standing ovation.”
Roth responds to the quote from the late film critic Roger Ebert that a horror film doesn’t need a big star because the scare is the star:
“I definitely agree. Sometimes, you have The Shining, which has a big star, but Paranormal Activity is an example, or Evil Dead. You need stars, you need good actors, good victims. And a lot of times people are very forgiving, if it’s a low budget film, with production value or whatever, as long as it’s scary. If you deliver on the scare, nobody gives a fuck. The best example are those videos that were like when the ‘internet thing’ first started, and there were people watching, and it was just a room, and then ‘RAAAAA!’ something pops up. And then you couldn’t wait to show it to someone. To get that reaction. It’s so much fun.”
Roth acknowledges that it is by no means a simple formula to make a horror classic: “There’s no way to know. It’s up to the public. You can’t make a horror film that you plan on being a classic. You try to make a classic. But you want to make a movie that doesn’t play it safe. That takes chances. That takes risks. That breaks convention. And that does it in a smart way. You can’t just break the rules for the sake of breaking the rules. You can’t just have a guy that turns to the boom [mic] operator for help suddenly (unless it’s about a documentary crew). You can’t be afraid to make a movie that’s going to upset people, and that not everybody might love. And that might split the audience. I still see people fighting about Hostel years later, and Hostel I and II run non-stop on IFC. It’s great that I made a movie that shocked people at the time, and that people can still argue years later about whether or not it sucked. It’s when you put something out there; it’s one hundred percent up to public to decide whether or not it becomes a classic. It’s totally out of your control.”
Aftershock offers its own opportunities to flout Hollywood convention:
“[What rules to break] depend on what story you’re telling. You don’t just make a movie to break rules, but as you tell your story, you want to stay one step ahead of the audience. In Aftershock, we really build up the characters, and build up the minor problems they’re going through. We all think about like ,okay, I want an iphone 5, or why won’t this girl text me back, or I really like this guy, why won’t he follow me on Twitter? Little stuff like that. It’s all modern ways of communicating. We really wanted to build up the minutiae, the minor problems that seem hugely important. For me, the movie’s Russell Dazzle. We make such a huge deal about this guy Russell Dazzle, who can’t even really dance, and then five minutes later we just kill him and crush his legs. To us, the idea that we basically stop the movie, and suddenly start—and you can feel the audience fight against it—and that’s what the character‘s going through. He’s in this movie, and then Russell Dazzle takes his girl. And the audience is like, ‘wait, we were in the earthquake movie, why are we watching a dance off? What the fuck?’ You feel them fighting, and then the earthquake happens, and nothing matters except surviving. And that’s the point. That it takes an event like that to put into perspective all the things that we think are such big deals.”
“But breaking rules: If this was a Hollywood movie, there would have been a minute twenty, you’ve got to have the earthquake happen. But I wanted every decision that these characters make, I want you to know why. Pollo [Nicolás Martínez], as obnoxious as he is, really loves his friend, so every decision is based on wanting to help his friend. My character really loves his daughter, so everything, from the moment the earthquake hits, is one hundred percent driven by the fact that I don’t want to leave my daughter without a father. And you understand it. So that when horrible things happen, and people do selfish things, and selfless things, as we show...”
“The movie is really about moral choices”, Roth continues. “And we can break the rules by having characters do things that we understand and we see them do, and we’re cringing in pain that they’re making that choice, but you get it. You get why they do it. It’s a human choice.
“And I think that’s what makes the movie so fucking upsetting. We’d all love to be the hero in those situations, but in reality, you’re not. And talking to Nicholas Lopez, all that stuff that happens in that movie, all of that really happened to people that he knew. We just strung it all into one fictional event.”
“Down to the underground tunnels where the priests and nuns would meet and have sex, and the nuns would have kids and kill them and bury them there. Those tunnels really exist. That’s in Chile. It’s also in Spain. The Spanish crew members told me. It’s something that’s not talked about.”
“In terms of breaking the rules, the way you can break the rules is to tell the most interesting story. You can tell the story that shocks people, that disturbs them, that’s maybe not going to leave some people feeling good, that’s going to really upset others. Some people appreciate that, and other times it takes...People have an idea of what a movie is. And what that movie’s going to be, and a lot of times their first reaction is them fighting, is wishing you had done this. I remember someone saying to me “I hated Hostel II because what I wanted to see was blah-blah-blah...” You hated the movie because the movie wasn’t the one that you had in your head. You’re not watching the movie. You’re fighting the movie. You’re not going with the story. So it’s fun to force people to settle down and focus and get them into your story, and then take them to upsetting and dangerous places. That’s what I think makes movies interesting. That’s what I think makes movies fun.”
“I think that the worst crime in cinema is boredom. I will take a bad movie over a boring movie, and a safe movie, and a lot of these films that I see being put out. I ‘ve even been sent scripts to direct, they all have to be ‘Earth gets saved’ or ‘the guy eventually learns a lesson.’ ‘What’s the character arc?’ And it’s just like, fuck. You can have all that, but fuck it, why can’t you have people do horrible things and die in terrible ways for no reason? That’s what life is. Hitchcock talked about The Birds being about the randomness of life. And life is this series of unforeseeable tragedies that we have no control over. And then we die. And you just have to be happy in between those moments and be thankful that you have your health, because that’s going to go someday too. It’s like awful. And you see it in a movie, and somehow, I don’t know, it upsets people. But I think it’s hilarious.”
The paradoxical attraction of horror is by no means exclusive to directors:
“One thing I’ve found from a lot of actors is they’re fascinated to see their own death. People have come up to me for years and said I have no interest in being an actor, but I really want to get killed in one of your movies. I think it’s the one thing we’ll never see. Even our birth now, if you really want to, I think most people could get a video of it. I don’t know why you’d want to see that.”
“But your death is something that it’s only natural to wonder how we’re going to die. The tsunami’s coming for us all, whether we like it or not. And life is a series of horrible things that happen to you and you do everything you can to avoid them, until ultimately you lose and you’re dead. So the fascination of what is--it’s a very human thing to wonder, what are we going to look like after we’re dead? That’s why it’s so fun to kill people on film.”
“And it’s funny for Nicolás López, who’s used to filming romantic comedies. I remember we were filming a scene where someone was dying in a grisly death, and he’s just—you know, he’s used to the guy breaking up with the girl, the girl dumping the guy, and the guy crying...And then you know, someone’s got their hands cut off, and they’re screaming, and their blood...And he was laughing. And he was like “Why is this so funny? I don’t get it!” And I said ‘It’s the best, isn’t it?’ It’s so much fucking fun, to just brutally kill characters. It’s great.”
Another subject Roth is especially enthusiastic about is working with Aftershock’s co-writer/director, Nicolás López: “I had the time of my life on Aftershock. Nicolás is so smart. His movie Promedio Rojo (highly recommend it; it’s on Netflix). Promedio Rojo is like Latin-American Pie. It’s Pollo and Ariel [Levy]: it’s the same cast. When he [Nicolás] was fifteen, he finished school, he had a show on MTV Latin America that he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in, called Piloto MTV... It aired after Jackass...”
“Then Promedio Rojo, he did at 19, and Que Pena Tu Vida, he shot it on a [Canon] 7D. It was the first movie shot on a 7D. He blew it up to 35 millimeter, put it in theatres, on like a few screens, and it made more money in Chile than Social Network. It became a phenomenon in Chile, because the kids were seeing themselves on the screen."
“Then he did Qué Pena Tu Boda. Then he did Qué Pena Tu Familia (I have a small cameo in that). He shoots so fast with the [Canon] 5Ds, his crew is so good, and there’s such a talent pool of actors. I went down there, and immediately took Lorreza Izzo, who plays Kylie in the movie, and cast her as Brooke Bluebell in Hemlock Grove. She gets killed in the first episode by the werewolf (she’s the cheerleader). Then I cast her as the lead in Green Inferno. Ariel Levy, Nicolas Martinez...this whole same crew, everybody, the same DP, the entire production team, we just said, let’s just bring this on to Green Inferno.”
“Nico and I really want to start Chilewit, which is our system of making our movies our way, with total control, making genre movies that are independent, but mainstream for the world. English language movies. There’s such a great talent pool down there, and of course, after Aftershock, everybody wanted to be in Green Inferno...It’s like a goldmine for production. I had the best time shooting there."
Working in Chile wasn’t all fun, as Roth’s forthcoming cannibal horror opus presented the crew with many challenges and even hazards:
“Green Inferno was no bullshit. We went up in the Amazon, in Peru. It was really fuckin scary at times. I don’t think I could have made that movie if I hadn’t made my others. There were tarantulas, bugs like The Mist. It was terrifying. It was 110 degrees. We all had to get de-parasited. Everybody got yellow fever shots. We went five hours traveling every day to the set. An hour in the landrover, to river, then the boats for ninety minutes. The river rose because there was a flood, and there were trees and debris and shit...There were so many points we almost got killed on that shoot. But it was great. It all worked out.”
Chile’s film production infrastructure may be limited, but that won’t stop Roth and his resourceful collaborator: “There’s nothing. Canon hooked us up with cameras, and we just ordered lights from China. Nicolás López basically built the system down there. We used a C-300, [Canon’s] new film camera. Canon was so impressed with what Nico did, they just started giving us cameras. He’s like, ‘Dude, you don’t need a fucking helicopter: Watch this.’ He took a 5D, and strapped it to this thing called an octocam, which is a remote control helicopter. You’re not allowed to get a helicopter near a vineyard because it will destroy the grapes, because the helicopter gets too close. He took the remote control octocam, has us all walking through the vineyard, and if it was a little bumpy, he ran it through Quake motion stabilizing... It looks like this hugely expensive helicopter shot, but it’s just him with a 5D.”
Inspired by his partner in filmmaking, López, Roth looks ahead to a cinematic future of greater flexibility and productivity:
“I really think he’s an amazing filmmaker. He did a movie called Santos, that flopped, when he was 23 years old, and it was before Scott Pilgrim. It’s that type of movie, set in a comic fantasy. And he loves it, and it’s his favorite movie. But the whole world was like, “This sucks!” It flopped, hardcore. And he was humiliated. And everyone in his country was like “Ha Ha! You suck!” At 23, he was washed up.
“And he sat down and wrote Que Pena Tu Vida, shot it in eleven days, thirty-eight locations, and it was a huge hit. He’s a really good example of a filmmaker that never waited for anyone’s permission, and then just figured it out, and did it just through creativity and hard work. He’s on Twitter. I think everybody just magically wants to be a director, and he’s a director that you can really look to, like, “I want to shoot a feature, I want to do the way Nicolás López did it”. He’s the first one I knew that got sponsors to finance his movie. For Que Pena Tu Vida, he got fifty grand from Canon, fifty grand from Adidas...he basically cobbled together 200 grand, shot the movie, and it made millions of dollars at the box office, and he didn’t have to pay back any investors. He owned the movie outright. It was genius.”
“That’s the thing: he’s eleven years younger than me, he’s a generation younger, so he doesn’t know what you’re not ‘supposed’ to do. He’s like “Fuck film, dude.” I’m like, ‘Yeah, but you need the emulsion...’ He’s like ‘My sister’s twelve. She watches everything on an iPad. Get over it.’
And he’s like, ‘If your movie’s a big fuckin hit, your movie’s the biggest box office hit, you’re in theatres for like three weeks, and then ten other movies are kicking you out. So your movie’s gonna live on iTunes and an iPad whether you like it or not.’ And the truth is, most people’s home systems have amazing hi-def TVs and great projection, so it’s like, fuck it. We made this in a new way. We shot this on 5Ds, let’s release it on 100 screens, for the core fans who want to go out (obviously I highly recommend seeing it in the theatre), but also, fuck it, you want to order it with a bunch of your friends? It’s 8 bucks on iTunes. Done. Don’t worry about it: On to the next one...”
“That’s our whole thing: We saw that Woody Allen documentary, where he’s making two movies a year, and we’re like ‘Okay, something is wrong with us! We are fucking lazy! We need to be like ‘Shoot-shoot-shoot’ Don’t overthink it. Fuck it, write a script, go. That’s the speed we’re moving at now.”
Aftershock opens in select theaters today!