VIFF review: Borealis

In a perfect dance of comedy and tragedy, Borealis follows gambling addict Jonah (Jonas Chernick) and his pot-smoking daughter, Aurora (Joey King), as they embark on a spontaneous road trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see the Northern Lights before Aurora slips into complete blindness. Chased by violent debt collectors, Borealis is a father-daughter road trip that brings humour without any of the traditional conventions of a typical road trip comedy.

To save their relationship and their lives, Jonah runs from his enormous gambling debt as two men hunt them down throughout the Manitoban landscape — Aurora is reluctantly taken along for the ride. Years after the death of Aurora’s mother, the two evaluate their estranged relationship and come to terms with their lingering grief. By being unable to escape their conflict in the close confines of a car, they are forced to face their problems and sort them out together.

Playing with out-of-focus shots, Director Sean Garrity effectively gives the audience insight into the status of Aurora’s fading vision throughout the film. As her sight deteriorates, we feel the helplessness of the young teen as she descends into complete blindness. King gives a superb performance illustrating the gradual loss of Aurora’s sight through her subtle eye movements. As the adventure progresses, her stares become devastatingly vacant towards the end of the film.

Jonah is an extremely flawed father who makes many mistakes, but his earnest love for his daughter make him an ultimately sympathetic character. The dysfunctional love between Jonah and Aurora make their relationship the emotional core that drives the film. Chernick breathes an effortless likeability and appeal to the imperfect character of Jonah. As the audience watches his character lie and make mistakes, they cheer for him as his meek and lost presence is transformed to a more confident and responsible father.

Aurora’s teenage angst comes across as hilariously relatable. This is an interesting role for King as she continues to transition towards mature roles and away from her child-actor past. King depicts a subtle balance between maturity and insecurity in Aurora. She’s a strong character and the film continuously reminds the audience of Aurora's age of 15 – it is easy to forget how young she is because of her confidence and maturity. This is balanced well, especially when the audience is provided with glimpses of her insecure moments.

If one where to give a straight synopsis of the events of this film detailing canine murder, debt evasion, blindness, suicide and deception, it would sound like a very dark and brooding film. However, the story is executed with such tenderness and charisma that it ensures that this father-daughter drama doesn't take itself too seriously. This film is genuinely charming without resorting to the commercial quirkiness audiences have perhaps become overly familiar with giving Borealis an organic originality.