AURORA (2018) is a Philippine horror drama thriller film about an innkeeper (Leana) and her sister (Rita) living near the rock-locked wreck of a giant passenger/cargo ship called THE AURORA. When the families of the victims pay her to recover bodies for burial, she sets out at first to make money and later to give them rest, while the ghosts of the dead blindly search for home.
I had mixed feelings about this film. The premise of a haunted shipwreck is fantastic, and the ghosts are done really well. The story is filtered through Filipino culture, particularly ideas about how to treat the dead. There’s a definite creepy vibe to the whole thing.
Unfortunately, the film didn’t seem to be confident about what it wanted to be. Leana started out motivated by money but then becomes motivated solely by recovering the dead, with little explanation. She has little agency as the lead. Early on, Rita seems comfortable with the ghosts and treats them as guests, until later she is scared of them. The director seemed to be working really hard for a horror effect while forcing the methods to get there. The writer also jury-rigged a singular ghost story as being instrumental in the shipwreck for a big reveal that sadly falls a bit flat, and moralized about greed by having the ship being overloaded with passengers, resulting in many bodies not being recovered. The heavy-handed musical score doesn’t help.
Still, I liked it and had fun with it. The Filipino setting was great, the ghosts were creepy, it was very moody, and for a long time I could just enjoy the initial premise of a haunted shipwreck. If they’d had the confidence to keep along a character arc for Leana as somebody who is doing it for the money only to learn the hard way it is about giving the dead rest, gotten rid of the one ghost’s role in the shipwreck, and avoided the overloaded ship, they could have had an amazing film, as there were many elements that really worked.
Overall, I give it a B.