Mexico's biggest commercial success in five years is flashy, but you can't shake the feeling that they're turning Japanese
Shock, horror news: Film Four have got a film with ghost children, people down wells/sewers and messages coming out the TV to scare the subtitled crap out of us.
But wait! This isn’t J-Horror. Well, not strictly speaking, as it is made in Mexico, but Km 31 – referring to a stretch of road where people keep having accidents after encountering ghosts – is a fairly run-of-the-mill ghost story shot in such a familiar way that you suspect Mexico has become a Japanese colony.
After Agata falls victim to one of the ghosts, her twin sister Catalina starts to piece together what happened to her. The back story she discovers digs into an old Mexican legend of ‘La Llorona’, the crying mother who has drowned her own children. That’s the extent of localising the film, though; the ghost children is so pointedly lifted from The Grudge that he stands around his pants, painted a bit blue with goth eye make-up, poking people in the back and hiding under beds. It’s not the only moment that makes this feel like a dubbed member of the Scary Movie series rather than featuring any originality.
The film doesn’t start off on such a sure horror footing, which is perhaps for the best, as it tends to be so by-the-numbers. The first hour is instead largely consumed with the boyfriends of the twins, Nuno and Omar, and how they compete for Catalina’s attention. It provides the most involving part of the film, and considering the ropiness of the script the rest of the time, the cast make decent work out of this point.
But with Agata never going to wake up again, they end up engaged in something of a frozen conflict that never quite moves up a gear. The menfolk’s fighting is more engrossing than the derivative twin action, but by the time the action kicks in, one of them makes such a rookie horror movie mistake that you will cheer his demise. Still, it points to the fact that Km31 starts off as two completely different films that don’t occupy the same space comfortably.
So how has Km 31 become the most successful Mexican film of the last five years? In short, it’s a commercial treat for the country that doesn’t stand the move to international markets. The film certainly does look the expensive part. The extensive visuals are slick, the cameras spin in and out of manhole covers and around characters and people shimmer in and out of view. Admittedly it’s fused with a certain smouldering, dark catholic charm (when did Mexico get all modern-looking?), but the visuals are pure J-Horror.
Unless you really are a sucker for a slick-looking film and haven’t had your fill of blue ghost children and haunted highways in the past few years, there’s nothing to recommend here.