Aranuka Mermaid Review

Genre: Fantasy/Experimental
Year Released: 2020
Distributor: Unlicensed
Origin: Kiribati/USA
Running Time: 19 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Mermaid [Vonley Smith film], Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Lost in the Deep End
-This film is free to stream on YouTube.
Fun Facts:
-Aranuka is an atoll in Kiribati that’s in the central part of the chain. Over a thousand people live there and it has a triangular (almost shark tooth-like) shape. This part of the country has an airport, mangrove trees that are over 49 feet tall, and several beaches on site.

-Aranuka Mermaid was created by Lulu DeBoer. She’s a film director, model, actress, ukulele player, vlogger, and a self-proclaimed mermaid who is of Dutch and I-Kiribati descent. She is currently based in Texas and graduated from Stanford University with a Film Studies degree.

-Kiribati is a country consisting of 32 atolls across an island chain. The capital/largest city is South Tarawa, the official languages are English as well as the local language Gilbertese, and became an independent nation in 1979. Kiribati is also the only nation on planet earth where all parts of that territory are on all four hemispheres.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m heading into new cinematic geographical territory. For my geography goal of covering at least one film from each continent from a country I’ve never covered before, Oceania was going to be a tricky one, but I finally did it. The only other nations that have been featured here have been Australia and New Zealand. Even then, I didn’t have many films from either country and a good portion of them was either involved as co-productions such as Inja or Atomic Falafel or having someone from that continent involved in another country’s films such as TK Cooper and Dahlia Black for example. This would be a massive sea change because I would have to review something from Polynesian, Melanesian, and/or Micronesian (not limited to the Federated States of Micronesia for those geography nerds out there). I know nothing of the cinema scene in that part of the world. I’m not talking about Hollywood movies that take place in the South Pacific like Moana or some parts of Hobbs & Shaw (both movies have The Rock as major characters to the surprise of no one!). No, I’m talking about something actually made by a filmmaker from there or at the very least someone who is descended from that part of Oceania. Congrats to the Republic of Kiribati for catching my eye to be featured on Iridium Eye! While this involves an American director, she’s still of maternal I-Kiribati descent and actually filmed this movie in that island nation. How many film bloggers or professional film critics do you know have reviewed an I-Kiribati movie much less have heard of that country before? If there’s one thing you can say about Iridium Eye, it’s that you’re guaranteed to find reviews of movies from countries one wouldn’t think would have movies made and produced from various nations.

Apologies if I sounded arrogant because this isn’t about me even though I do get excited when I review a film from a country I’ve never expected to see a movie from there. Let’s get to it.

Aranuka Mermaid deals with a local rainforest village on the atoll. There’s a woman named Ioane who lives with her husband, father, and baby daughter. Her husband started off snoozing before he went to go fishing to feed the family. Things started out normal as he dove into the water to make a catch, but things take a dramatic turn when he sees a mermaid in the water. He ends up becoming missing and Ioane has to find him not knowing if he’s dead or alive after that encounter. Meanwhile, there are spirits and those with access to supernatural abilities in the rainforest who manage to show up.

This had some unique things about it. I had never seen the landscape of Kiribati until this film, and I must say that I was intrigued to see a rural part of the country. The rainforest and mangrove trees did have a natural mystic quality to them. The underwater scenes were gorgeous and were a major highlight of the film. Not just because of the sharp camera work during those segments, but you could see all the colorful fish and magnificent coral reefs around. I was definitely impressed. The music also worked. There was a mix of traditional I-Kiribati folk songs, some ambient pieces, and some incidental music in dramatic scenes. I liked how there was an experimental nature to this film as there were various coloration changes and some aftereffects added for atmospheric effects. Yes, I could tell that Lulu DeBoer used Final Cut Pro to edit Aranuka Mermaid since I have that software, but it was used in functional ways without showing off or using only the basic features of that software. The film was well shot and never overstayed its welcome by telling the story it needed to tell. Aranuka Mermaid had multiple surprises with the plot that will force one to pay attention, so don’t turn your brain off while watching it.

Aranuka Mermaid does have some scars (anime pun intended). While the short film was decently produced and also boasted beautiful underwater footage, not all parts of the production were on point. The slow-mo scenes were very choppy and distracting. There were also some lighting issues in the hut as the sun was high up and the shadow was cast too much on the actors during some points of the film. There’s also a dualistic element with the mermaid played by DeBoer herself. I understand not having the director outshine the main characters, but the mermaid doesn’t have as big a part of the plot as one would expect. If one loves mermaids in movies, then one can be slightly disappointed. One thing I found to be distracting was Ioane’s actress. I could tell these were nonprofessional actors, but it was very obvious she wasn’t a natural at acting. I have seen and reviewed some amazing performances of nonprofessional actors being more talented than those in Hollywood such as Before Your Eyes, The Last Rumba of Papa Montero, or multiple Jafar Panahi movies I could mention, but I cringed when she corpsed during some somber scenes which took me out of the movie. None of the actors besides DeBoer were credited, so I don’t know if it was a privacy issue or something, but I found that to be strange and could also come off as an ego trip out of context.

This entry into I-Kiribati cinema was a bit above average to me. The natural scenery and the underwater shots have to be seen to be believed. Lulu DeBoer handling, directing, producing, acting, and even with some of the scoring should be commended as not many filmmakers could do all of that. I did have an issue with some mediocre acting and some drops in production quality at certain points. Aranuka Mermaid will make you interested in checking out that island nation, but the story could’ve been a lot stronger.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like experimental elements in your fantasy stories.
Add 1 point if you like Oceanian locales (particularly Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian-majority countries).
Subtract 1-3 points if you want to see mermaids in more prominent roles.
Subtract 1 point if you want high-budget productions.

-Breathtaking scenic shots of the land and ocean
-Good soundtrack and scoring
-Nice usage of experimental film work

-Mediocre acting from the main characters
-Some choppy editing and slow-mo in different points
-Could confuse regular viewers

Final Score: 6/10 Points

Content Warning: Aranuka Mermaid should be fine for most audiences besides the youngest of viewers. The main plot element involves the husband possibly being dead or alive. There’s the usage of magic and some occult-like moments in the 2nd half of the short film. One plot point involves a tobacco offering. It’s not smoked by anyone, but it is an odd choice of an offering in the plot.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Aranuka Mermaid is property of Lulu DeBoer. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Lulu DeBoer.

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