Anne Curtis is on a roll in 2018: from the beloved romantic mystery Sid and Aya to the take-no-prisoners BuyBust, and now, this high-stakes horror fare from Yam Laranas. It would seem that Curtis has achieved three financial and critical hits in a single year. Well, almost. Whoever said third time’s a charm clearly hasn’t seen Aurora.
THE MASSIVE PRODUCTION SCALE IS A FAÇADE
From the first few minutes of Aurora, we are offered stunning shots of the high seas, and in the middle, an enormous capsized boat with hundreds of dead passengers underneath. The cinematography and the visual effects blend beautifully to render a haunting feel to the movie, but as it later proves, the technical stuff cannot make up for the paper thin story. We want to have a drinking game where everyone must take a sip everytime the capsized ship appears onscreen, then another whenever the waves crash onto the rocks. Three shots every time the two appears together.
THE MAIN CHARACTER LACKS DEPTH
Curtis plays Leana, an innkeeper who embarks on a quest to recover dead bodies in exchange for money. There are a few flashbacks regarding her character, but we never fully empathize with her. What exactly motivates her? How does her past affect her future, other than her familiarity with death?
TOO MUCH SETUP
There are just a lot of ghostly visions, slow-motion scares, that by the time we get to the revelation part about what happened to the ship, we are already exhausted. The payoff simply isn’t equal to the amount of setup the movie took.
MESSAGE NOT SENT
Aurora has an interesting goal that it makes evident somewhere in the second act— to rally against (spoiler alert, stop reading now if you plan to see the movie) capitalism. The Philippines is no stranger to countless sea tragedies, mostly caused by overloaded ships, and Aurora capitalizes on that premise to make a stand. However, whatever message the story intends to convey gets buried in muddled storytelling.
Along for the rollercoaster ride are Leana’s young sister Rita (Phoebe Villamor) and fellow islander Ricky (Marco Gumabao), both of whom the movie could have done without, given that Leana can also see the ghosts (so what’s Rita’s role after all?) and Ricky is just unremarkable (if we needed a strong male character, Allan Paule’s ‘Eddie’ is there). Having a lot of characters just confuses the narrative with too many character journeys, seldom of which are complete.
THE INTERESTING CHARACTERS ONLY COME OUT AT THE START AND AT THE END
We wanted to see more Sue Prado, Mercedes Cabral, Ricardo Cepeda and Ruby Ruiz, all great thespians who are given very little to do. Their characters are also more interesting than the token male savior (who doesn’t really save anyone) and the child who sees ghosts and nothing else.
THE MOVIE COULD HAVE RELIED MORE ON UNCERTAINTY TO ESTABLISH DREAD
There is a brilliant dream sequence in Aurora near the end, where Leana and Rita navigate the corridors of the ship, and the voice of the ship captain (Richard Manabat) plays on loop. There’s no blood, gore, or jump scares, but boy, does it make your skin crawl, a scene straight out of a horror videogame (think Resident Evil or The Last of Us). Aurora could have used more of those, instead of scurrying to tie loose ends from all the narrative planted in the first half.
Aurora had the promise of a big-budget modern horror classic, if only it spent more time on character development. The common problem of most plot-driven vehicles is that you’re rushing to get from point A to point B, often at the expense of character motivations. Of course, we want to be scared, but we want things to make sense, too.
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Screenshots from trailer.