Yam Laranas is one of the most famous Filipino directors: from what I understood, he’s basically the James Wan of Philippines – i.e. he makes mainstream horror entertainment, but he does it in a way that exceeds expectations and make his movies stand out.
Having not seen any of his films, I thought watching Aurora would have been a good start: this movie won multiple awards at the 2018 Metro Manila Film Festival and is now available on Netflix in many countries, so it’s quite easy to watch. Yet, the trailer further convinced me I was getting into a very atmospheric and intense supernatural horror film.
The story is simple and has a lot of potential: after the Aurora – a passenger ship – mysteriously collides into the rocky sea, a young woman (Leana) and her little sister decide to find the missing dead for bounties. With the help of Eddie, an expert fisherman, they begin the search, which soon enough causes Leana to have strange visions of the rotting corpses of the missing passengers.
Honestly, this premise to me sounds like gold for a horror film. You could either go with nice visuals and loads of scares to make an exciting, spooky 90-minute-long horror ride; or you could subvert expectations and use the ghosts of the victims as a metaphor for a haunting past that comes back to bite your ankles. You could even do both!
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Aurora (2019)
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Unfortunately, none of those scenarios appear in Aurora. In fact, this is one of the most disappointing, poorly executed horror movies I’ve seen on Netflix ever since I subscribed to the service. It’s just barely more watchable than that shipwreck (pun intended) of Romina (2018).
Aurora starts off rather strong, with no backstory nor unnecessary padding: the main characters are introduced within the first 10 minutes and the soundtrack implies from the get-go that something horrific is about to happen.
However, if you decide to watch this movie, you’ll immediately notice the jarring editing. Even if you won’t notice it, you’ll get a strong headache from it: some scenes last a quarter of a second and the cuts are abrupt and frenetic. The idea was most likely to create a fast pace; the result is a nauseating viewing experience that makes your head and eyes tired, in a way that I believe wasn’t intentional.
Yet, the characters in Aurora aren’t developed in the slightest: there’s no growth, they don’t learn anything, and they don’t change throughout the movie. The acting is also pretty bad all-around, although there isn’t a single performance that I would describe as terrible or laughable.
One of the biggest issues with this film is the overreliance on CGI: Aurora had an estimated $3,000,000 budget, which is quite high for Philippines cinema, but every single shot that could’ve been practical is made worse by the use of cheap and poorly rendered computer-generated images. The CG flames, in particular, are dreadful. Also, the stranded ship – entirely realised through CGI – looks fake and weightless, but the director decided to focus the camera on it multiple times… it’s as though they wanted to make sure you didn’t think it was real!
Aurora is all-around a disappointing and poorly executed film, but during the last act any remaining sense of logic and coherence is thrown out of the window to make space for a series of unrelated, nonsensical and un-scary images that only make the final product look more amateur and inexcusable.
Aside from a concept that, on paper, is quite intriguing, Aurora only manages to have a few nice locations, a rather eerie soundtrack and some cool ghost/zombie makeup effects. Aside from that, just like the titular ship, this movie sinks deep and fails at almost everything it tried to achieve.
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