Non-netizens haven’t a clue as to what a “dark web mystery box” is. For all those uninformed readers out there, these cryptic containers are exactly what you think they are: dark web users compile a bevy of random and oftentimes creepy items, then sell them in boxes on websites for a good chunk of change (or cryptocurrency). When these boxes are shared online, the unpackers find puzzling objects such as dolls, Satanic paraphernalia, and even bloodied tools. It all appears to be part of some collective gag preying on the naïve, but these boxes are just another example of why horror persists. Our need to understand the unknown is ardent and our curiosity takes precedence over self-preservation.
In the case of Curse of Aurore, the events that unfold are brushed with an extra coat of plausibility by casting MindSeed TV’s Casey Nolan. The host plays himself as he presents the contents of yet another mystery box courtesy of the dark web; he finds among the eerie loot a suspicious thumb drive that holds something far worse than a computer virus.
Like so many similar setups in other found-footage movies, we have a group of excited auteurs looking to shed light on an old crime. Two Americans, Kevin (Jordan Kaplan) and Aaron (Lex Wilson), meet up with their colleague Lena (Llana Barron) in Québec, Canada to investigate the case of Marie-Aurore-Lucienne Gagnon, or simply Aurore Gagnon. The 10-year-old girl is a recognized victim of heinous child abuse who has since become a sort of media icon following her tragic death.
In the meantime, Lena and her friends stay at her family home in the very small town of Fortierville as they research their next movie. The trip takes a turn when the trio is beset by not only the inhospitality of the locals but also a series of unexplained events. Finally, the filmmakers conduct a séance in hopes of contacting the spirit of Aurore.
You won’t have a hard time connecting the dots as Curse of Aurore doesn’t deviate from a tried-and-true formula. Unsuspecting researchers uncover something unearthly about a historical incident before promptly falling apart at the doorstep of evil. It’s procedure for anyone who has consumed a wealth of movies like this, but on the other hand, that journey can be comforting at the same time. Human nature isn’t entirely unpredictable, so it only makes sense we make the same choices (and mistakes) as others in similar situations. Be that as it may, the exposition is briskly paced and you’re never disengaged because of tedium. There’s always something to keep the audience attached.
The cast sells a found-footage movie as much as the story. Because of that desire for realism, plain-spoken and informal acting helps to bolster the overall effect. Our players are average enough so that it’s easy to relate to them even if they’re not exactly unique. Kevin is flippant and possibly a kleptomaniac; Aaron is the voice of reason when things get weird; Lena is the personable tour guide marred by a recent leg injury. Their chemistry is credible for the most part, and you’re never so put off by their more discordant scenes that their inevitable fate doesn’t affect you to some degree.
What Curse of Aurore emphasizes rather well is the theme of “us versus them.” Here, it’s less flagrant but also not unforeseen given the town’s residents’ reaction towards these cultural interlopers. Kevin and Aaron enter the local grocery store to mainly gawk at every food they deem unusual by their own standards. In a place with such a diminutive population, the men especially don’t behave inconspicuously; they lean into stereotypes about obnoxious tourists traveling abroad. All of this ultimately plays an important role in the story. The three main characters stick their noses where they don’t belong and they are dealt with accordingly. In time, they become part of the myth they wanted to explore as mere outsiders.
Director Mehran C. Torgoley and co-writer Barron do well by bringing up the trend of dark web mystery boxes and the parallel between found footage and snuff movies. It’s something that could have been explored in far more detail here, but rather, the movie settles for something more familiar. So while Curse of Aurore may not break routine or pack a wallop of surprise if you already frequent this subgenre of horror, it does offer a creative and spooky interpretation of one of Canada’s most publicized crimes.