Shipping Ghosts: A Review Of 'Aurora'
VIVA Film’s Aurora is one of the two films we would categorize as coming from the horror genre that made it to this year’s MMFF Magic 8. Throughout its history, it’s always been a peculiar feature of the MMFF to include two to three entries from this genre, and the fact that they’re so popular at this time of the year may raise some eyebrows. But Aurora director and co-writer Yam Laranas has a perfectly rational explanation for this happening.
“The MMFF is a time for the family; and when the family head to the amusement park, what are the more popular attractions? The haunted house, the roller coaster!” There’s some kind of morbid fascination with these rides and attractions that scare us out of our wits, make us hold our breath, and jumpstart our hearts. And it’s no wonder then to find that films out to provide jump scares and compel us to shut our eyes in horror, will similarly find an audience.
In Aurora, a passenger liner is dashed against a rock formation off the coast of Batanes. Right in front of the shipwreck site is an isolated, dilapidated inn run by Leana (Anne Curtis) with her two sisters. The girls have lost their parents and it isn’t long before one sister leaves to find better fortune in the city, and it’s only Rita (child actress Phoebe Villamor) left with Leana. At the film’s opening, there’s a lot of activity at the inn, as this is where relatives of the deceased from the wreck have descended. It’s as the search for survivors is officially closed, that the ‘meat’ of this grim tale begins.
Taking its cue from sea tragedies of the recent past, the film touches on how these tragedies could have been avoided if not for greed, corruption, and the collusion between law enforcement agencies and the maritime carriers. The mystery unraveled is that of unlisted passengers who perished and are now seeking closure of some kind, and they will use Leana and Rita to achieve this.
Gothic and grisly, this film operates more on atmosphere and foreboding rather than the quota of jump scares that horror films of today use as formula. As with the other films of Yam, his cinematography is one of the major highlights - stark images, bleaching of color, impossible camera angles, stunning underwater shots, inventive use of shadow and light - there’s so much to visually appreciate in this film. And from Sweden, Yam has Oscar Fogelstrom score the film with original music that lends the film epic grandeur.
As Leana, Anne Curtis surprises us, the desolation of the landscape etched on her face. There’s admirable restraint and muted intensity. The wonderful scene stealer is Phoebe Villamor as Rita; as her character has the more interesting arc, as it’s through Rita that the specters first make reciprocal contact with the living world.
There is something old school horror about Aurora, and it’s actually refreshing as it doesn’t merely rely on jump scares, but allows the story to evolve and disorient us. There’s one sudden spatial shift that’s a major play and differentiates Aurora from your run of the mill horror films. There’s a genuine effort made to elevate the genre, and give us something meditative and still disturbing.
Lead images from Aurora's official Facebook page