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1 review, 2 user ratings

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KM 31
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by Jay Seaver

"A near-fantastic Mexican haunting."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Km 31" is a good ghost story, and comes fairly close to being a great one. In fact, I won't argue much with someone who comes out of it saying that it is a legitimately great ghost story, as I seem to be hampered by my insistence that these things make sense.

I don't mean that sarcastically; it's a legitimate blind spot. Ghost stories and other types of supernatural horror are based upon something irrational and unquantifiable happening in an otherwise rational world, but my brain is wired to expect a mechanism that can be understood and worked with. Failing that, I want everything to at least fit in thematically. Km 31 seems to be doing pretty good in that regard almost literally right up to the final scene, and when the film doesn't give me the conclusion it had seemed to be leading me toward, I feel cheated. Those who find that sort of randomness a virtue will have no problem with it.

But let's back up a bit. The film starts with Agata (Iliana Fox) driving down the highway. At the Km. 31 marker, a small boy jumps out in front of the car, and Agata hits him. She gets out of the car, calls her boyfriend Omar (Raul Mendez), and while looking for the boy (who has mysteriously vanished), she herself is run over. A few miles away, this triggers a sort of reaction in her identical twin Catalina (Fox again), who leads her Spanish friend Nuno (Adira Collado) to where Agata lays, barely alive. The doctors have to amputate Agata's legs and she comes out of surgery in a coma; when Catalina and Omar ask about the boy she mentioned, they're told there was no boy. The search for answers leads Omar to Martin Ugalde (Carlos Aragon), a detective obsessed with the dozens of hit-and-run accidents that have happened at that highway marker, and Catalina and Nuno to an old woman (Luisa Huertas) who sheds some light on the supernatural forces at work.

Writer/director Rigoberto Castaņeda has a lot of threads going here, and what's pleasantly surprising is that they're not just random backstory and character quirks; almost everything in the story is part of a cohesive whole. We see that there was a contentious history between Catalina and Agata, with Catalina feeling her father favored Agata, and how the dark secret in their past has had a complex effect on their relationship. That they're identical twins makes for a good hook into the supernatural horror story, but also makes for some intriguing, uncomfortable situations with Omar. He sees the woman he loves lying in a hospital bed, comatose and mutilated, sees her twin in the lobby, and is honest about being attracted to her, too. This increases tension between him and Nuno (who fears Catalina sees him as just a friend) that seems to already exist because Nuno is from Spain rather than Mexico. And Nuno being Spanish looks like it could tie into the supernatural elements and maybe even help provide a resolution, since the curse seems to stem from incidents hundreds of years earlier, when a Spanish colonist drove several native women to suicide.

The historical backdrop is interesting, involving a river that has been swallowed by the city and which the characters can track. It gives the movie a certain scope while allowing us to stay focused on these characters, as well as making the story specific to that place and culture (aren't the best ghost stories products of their environment). That's a huge relief, because in the early going this movie looks an awful lot like a Mexican version of Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on/Grudge movies: A cursed place, a creepy shirtless kid with gray skin and jet-black hair, a crime lost in time that causes the victims to strike out almost without any remaining connection to the original offense. Castaņeda builds a good story out of the material, though, only faltering a bit on the ending. He also knows how to get us to jump, but doesn't just use violence for cheap thrills. People getting killed or maimed is not played as fun, and the audience finds itself almost as queasy as the characters.

He gets fine performances out of his cast, too, who all manage to find a realistic tone while keeping the movie fun to watch - we believe that they're hurting because of what has happened to Agata, but we never find them depressing or too businesslike in their investigations. Iliana Fox is especially noteworthy for how she makes us look at Catalina and Agata as distinct individuals despite how we only meet Agata for a couple minutes in the beginning. It's not just the different haircuts; even panicking because she thinks she's hit a child, Agata still carries herself more confidently than Catalina, who is burdened with self-doubt while still proving a capable individual as she attempts to figure out what is going on. I liked Carlos Aragon as Ugalde, too; it's a very believable take on the cop who finds himself with a ghost story on his hands.

As with many ghost stories, I wish the end were tied up a little better - I can come up with an explanation for it in my head, and that's good enough for me to still enjoy everything else that this movie does so very well.

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originally posted: 07/13/07 00:36:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/08 Marco Martinez Great movie, I still have nightmares... 5 stars
8/16/07 Jesus Pena Great Ghost story in the relm of The Grudge and The Ring but with better acting. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Rigoberto Castaņeda

Written by
  Rigoberto Castaņeda

  Iliana Fox
  Adriā Collado
  Raul Mendez

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