The Philippines. Once upon a time, that land was responsible for some of the best trash to be found in your local Grindhouse (see: Machete Maidens Released [2010 / trailer]). But the glory days of trashy Filipino co-productions and productions peaked long ago, and though the production of local product remains healthy in the land, filmic exports are now almost as rare as a non-hypocritical Republican. And so the trailer of Aurora had no trouble catching our eye and our interest when we stumbled upon it one day, looking, as it does, so Gothic and scary if decidedly not all that trashy. And thus we came to watch this movie, which we have since learned is directed by Yam Laranas, a successful Filipino director with a penchant for horror movies who, in 2008, even directed The Echo (trailer), the American remake of his 2004 horror flick Sigaw, aka The Echo (trailer).
Trailer toStarring the popular and highly attractive (Australian-born) Filipino actress, singer and TV personality Anne Curtis, Aurora is a far cry from the kind of flick full of guns, machetes, breasts and blood remembered so fondly from the 70s and 80s. No, it is an often beautifully shot, moody horror movie that flips between visual artificiality and verisimilitude as it tries to bring way too much under one salakót. The end result is a movie that starts out with so much promise but, by the time it meanders to its oh-so-desired end, comes across as much, much longer than its 110-minute running time. It is, to say the least, a struggle to sit through till the end — which didn't stop it from being a success in its homeland and making its way to Netfux, where it lingers.
There's a magnificent tracking shot at the start of the movie that sweeps from afar down to the (extremely artificial looking) seaside inn on a remote island run by Leana (Curtis), whom we later learn took charge of the inn and her younger sister Rita (Phoebe Villamor) upon the death of her parents. The inn, like the island, is suffering a slow death since the ferry liner Aurora crashed on the rocks just off the coast (and directly in front of the inn), resulting in the deaths of thousands. ("Instantly" it says in the trailer, but don't be fooled.) When the coast guard official in charge (Ricardo Cepeda of Tarot [2009 / trailer]) calls off the search for the remaining dead, the cash-strapped Leana, faced with financial ruin and having to give up the family homestead, accepts an offer by a couple whose daughter hasn't been found to continue the search for bodies in exchange for cold, hard cash per cold body. Wandering the shores proves less than successful, so she goes in 50-50 with a local fisherman Eddie (Allan Paule of Macho Dancer [1988 / trailer] and Haunted Mansion [2015 / trailer]), but he proves more adept at finding salvageable, sellable cargo than the dead even as ghostly figures begin to make their appearance — including, once, as a laughably hilarious oversized [dead] face in the upstairs window of the inn, visible only to Eddie's wife (Andrea Del Rosario of Rome & Juliet [2006 / trailer] and Kutob [2005 / trailer])...
Without doubt, the strongest aspect of the movie — aside the eye-candy actresses — is the cinematography, which remains impressive for most of the movie. The grey color scheme of the arty-fake house and its interior has its appeal, as does the forlorn landscape, and the camerawork is occasionally almost majestic (re: the opening shot). But as often as too many scenes take way too long, thus moving into the realm of pointless padding, other interludes are marred by an editing so quick and savage that it looks as if done by a half-blind person with dull scissors. And while the interaction with fellow townspeople adds an interesting social-studies aspect, the whole character of Ricky (Marco "Teen Heartthrob" Gumabao), as the young attractive male who really isn't necessary but is shoved into prominence soon after Leona has an attack of conscious, does little more than add to the overall impression that the filmmakers lost their direction along the way. True, he does find the body of the dead giant (Raul Dillo), the only one among the dead who doesn't want "to go home", but it is arguable whether the giant's tangent of the tale is even needed, either — in the end, although one gets the feeling the viewer is meant to sympathize with him, it is difficult to overlook the fact that he is also responsible for the shipwreck, and thus the deaths of countless innocent people.
For all the tangents that fray along the way, towards the end, when the first dead finally make their appearance at the inn, Aurora takes a truly what-the-fuck turn: Leona and Rita try to leave the inn but, when walking through the door, get beamed back in time and onto the ship itself so that they (and the viewer) can experience the tragedy and horror of the boat's shipwreck from below deck, after the expository of a tertiary character allows us to experience it from above deck. While well-made from the point of showing a shipwreck, it is filmed in such a realistic fashion that its very factualness destroys the little sense of the supernatural horror that hadn't yet faded from the narrative, the result being that even the final scene, when the dead walk en mass, totally lacks the horrific punch it should have.
These and other flaws, like occasional highly questionable CGI (the worst being that big face in the window), do great damage to the movie by literally negating any plus points of the narrative and images. Visually, for example, Aurora is well-made and often engaging, and it is also not overly marred by the almost silent-film theatricalism often found in Asian films, but for all the promise the movie holds when it starts, it is an uninteresting mess by the end.
Hardly imperative viewing in any way, Aurora should definitely not be watched late at night — not because it is in any way scary, but because it may well put you to sleep. That said, if your relatives have little kids, the film might scare them into nightmares, so it might be a fun way to introduce to horror films the next time you have to babysit. If you're lucky, and the kids are impressionable, you might never have to babysit again!
As an extra – Oh! The Horror!
Anne Curtis (hot) & Marco Gumabao (less hot) slaughtering Señorita on Filipino TV: