Monday, November 11, 2013

Eli Roth Turns Natural Disaster into Horror Gore. Is It Too Soon?

Eli Roth talks ‘Aftershock’

A scene from 'Aftershock'. Courtesy TIFF.
In 2010, Chile was rocked by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake, the 6th most powerful earthquake ever recorded on a seismic scale. Over three hundred died amidst widespread devastation, and a resulting tsunami wiped out entire coastal towns. Aftershocks reached over 6 on the moment magnitude scale and in some areas of the country hit XI (Violent). Renowned horror filmmaker Eli Roth and Chilean director Nicolás López took that dreadful event as the basis for their gory horror film Aftershock. It opens as tourists in an underground nightclub are trapped during a sudden earthquake. They scramble to get above ground risking loss of life and limb. Meanwhile, a nearby prison has collapsed and the inmates are at large while looters, rapists and murderers swing into action. It’s beyond shocking, beyond gory. We spoke with Roth, who also stars in the film.
Aftershock is extremely shocking, showing the after effects of the earthquake that devastated Chile. Why this backdrop for the film?
Eli Roth: Nicholas, who co-wrote and directed the film, described the earthquake to me and what he went through. He just took me through the events of the night, and the stories that happened to people he knew, and it was all there. It was horrific – the total collapse of society. The whole country shook violently for 3 and a half minutes, it was a notch under the Tokyo earthquake. It hit at 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday on the last weekend of their summer, so most of the young people were out at bars partying, dancing; thousands of people drunk, girls in heels and tiny dresses, suddenly getting hands chopped off or having pieces of ceiling collapse on them. One of our leads, Lorenza Izzo, was in a club when it hit, and said when we were shooting the earthquake it was exactly what happened to her. In the very club we filmed at people were killed when the speakers fell on them. One kid lost both his hands and had his friends looking for them, but they couldn’t find them and had to leave because the structure was collapsing. The prisons broke up, violent criminals got out, there was looting – and nobody could communicate. No police, no fire – it was chaos. A lot of the country is still destroyed from the earthquake, so we used real locations. The Santiago cemetery let us film in a wing that was too damaged from the earthquake to be usable, so while we were shooting we suddenly realized we were surrounded by broken open tombs with bones falling out. We didn’t have to set dress it, I was lying on the ground and all around me were dust and bones that were rattled in the earthquake. It was crazy.
What led you to this project?
ER: I generally don’t look for something; something grabs me, if that makes sense. It usually sparks from conversations with other filmmakers, or sometimes an idea just pops in your head and you know you have to make it. I hear a story, often based in fact, and then I say “We have to do that!” I like to put a fresh spin on genres or types of films that people haven’t done in a long time. With Aftershock I realized there hadn’t been a good realistic, violent earthquake disaster thriller since the 70′s. We wanted something that was real, but a high octane, roller coaster thriller, something that when it hits just doesn’t let up. So many disaster films are done with CG, which is fine, but we had the opportunity to do something that was modern and do it real by actually destroying things. Most everything you see we really did. A lot of the takes I closed my eyes because I was terrified someone would get crushed. Thankfully no one got hurt, but the film was made with that kind of energy. Nicolas would look at me after a take and just shake his head and say “Someone’s watching over this movie.” And you feel it when you see it. There’s no substitute for the real thing.
You acted in Aftershock as well. How tough was that?
ER: It’s very difficult, way more so than I anticipated. I want to do every job at the best of my abilities, so I tend to go all in and completely immerse myself no matter what it is, if it’s writing, directing, producing, or acting. I want to give a great performance, and that takes intense concentration and preparation. But the way I can produce at the same time is to produce the film with good partners who can take over those duties while you’re acting. It’s never an ideal situation and they don’t want to bother me when they don’t have to, but more often than not I was taking phone calls and signing contracts and solving problems completely drenched in fake blood, dust and sweat. It’s also hard to shut your brain off, so after a while you just kind of give up on sleep until you wrap. After we wrapped photography we all got sick – it’s like our bodies were fighting it and once we knew we were allowed to shut down we spent a week in bed not moving.
Aftershock is available in Canada on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download November 12. Check out the trailer for the film below.

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