Eli Roth in "Aftershock"
Eli Roth in "Aftershock"

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.