It’s been awhile since I last saw a Yam Laranas film but I remember ‘Radyo’ and ‘Sigaw’ very fondly as being genuinely fresh and innovative. I was excited to see ‘Aurora’ again and, as a wonderful Christmas bonus, to see another Anne Curtis film, her third this year with a completely different role from what she is used to.
And I’m thrilled to see Curtis’ show off more of her range — very different performances from ‘Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)’ and ‘Buy Bust.’ She’s been showcasing amazing work this past year, which only proves that she has been boxed in a particular character based on her public persona, but there’s a compelling and captivating actress underneath the celebrity that she is known for.
But despite the talent and the promise that is the foundation of this horror film, ‘Aurora’ does not live up to its expectations. Don’t get me wrong, the first act and the second of the movie is wonderful, establishing the world and the characters slowly but with great care that it gets you really invested. But its final act, the payoff of the whole film, gets lost with over-direction and heavy-use of special effects that were not exactly needed.
Set in the beaches of a secluded island — though it’s not named, it gives the feel of isolation like Batanes (where the film was shot) — ‘Aurora’ is about Leana (Curtis), the owner of what appears to be a bed & breakfast by the sea, whose life is turned upside-down when the passenger ship Aurora crashes into the rocks near the shore, and search and rescue operations are held to reclaim the bodies lost in the tragedy.
Curtis’ Leana is an exhausted woman. She’s running a business that’s not doing very well, taking care of her younger sister, and is dealing with a pain from her past that is just at the fringes of her darkness. The crashing of Aurora is going to make things worse for her and the people in the island.
If anything, ‘Aurora’ is filled with stunning visuals. The gorgeous Batanes landscape along with Laranas’ coverage of the raging sea and the imagery of the crashed passenger ship on the rocks near the shore is a sight to behold. The film is almost devoid of colour, unlike many other films that shows Batanes as a gorgeous little island paradise. ‘Aurora’ strips off this idyllic representation and replaces it with a bleak and barren land that is its own beauty but is also dangerous and foreboding.
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Unlike ‘Sigaw’ or ‘Radyo,’ which has its fair share of thrills and spills, ‘Aurora’ is moody and atmospheric. It’s never really scary as it is creepy and unsettling. When Leana is offered a huge amount of money to keep the bed and breakfast open for another month after the rescue operations have ended just in case bodies are washed into shore, she readily accepts leaving herself and her sister Rita to deal with the ship before them and all its dark secrets.
‘Aurora’ is slow and very creepy but it’s grounded in a captivating Anne Curtis and a world that is filled with dark and frightening things just at the periphery. This is more psychological than anything else and the first two-thirds of the movie is quite good, if you can stand slow moving pieces. But its third act loses all the potential energy stored, as it lets out moment after moment without the steady care that it took to establish the narrative that the film becomes frayed.
There’s a feeling that the ending wasn’t as well thought out as the first half of the film and there was a mad rush to get it done that there are sequences that are either over-directed (like the scenes in the ship) or under-directed (like a scene involving Marco Gumabao’s Ricky, a friend of Leana, being attacked by a coffin in the sea).
It’s a shame because ‘Aurora’ has wonderful performances by Curtis, Allan Paule, Sue Prado, and Arnold Reyes, great cinematography, and production design. It earned so much emotional credit in the beginning and it squandered it on a messy final act that leaves you quite dissatisfied at the end.