Supernatural horror thriller KM31 became a huge hit at the Mexican box office after its release in February this year, grossing an impressive $15 million. Its success was due in large part to the production company, Lemon Films, who set out to make a commercial film that would raise the profile of the Mexican film industry and compete confidently in the International market. In that respect, KM31 demonstrates what a relatively small industry can achieve.
The film marks Rigoberto Castaí±eda‘s debut as a director and as such serves as a showcase of his diverse horror influences. The story revolves around twin sisters Agata and Catalina, who have possessed a strong psychic link since an early age, which enables them to communicate without speaking. One night Agata is involved in a serious car accident which leaves her in a coma. Visiting her sister in hospital, Catalina experiences Agata’s anguish. This urges her to investigate the scene of the crash, the marker KM31 on a local highway, a place she soon realises is haunted by ghosts of the past, spirits that claim their victims on the road. As the psychic link between the twins intensifies, Catalina, with the help of her friend Nuno and Agata’s boyfriend Omar, attempts to uncover the secrets of a local legend that has trapped her sister between life and death, between reality and a world of unearthly terror. But the further Catalina delves the more she uncovers long repressed secrets of their past, endangering both Agata’s life and her own.
Castaí±eda enhances the ghostly atmosphere of the film with lush hues and stunning locations. The dense forest that borders the road is ambiguously enchanting, a place simultaneously magical and sinister that invokes curiosity and a sense of foreboding. The house Catalina is drawn to in the depths of the forest is the stuff of fairy tales, replete with a wise and benevolent old lady and childhood toys. The film reinvents ancient Mexican folklore for a modern audience, lending an air of authenticity, a sense of place and tradition.
But despite some interesting stylistic flourishes and an intriguing premise the plot of KM31 is somewhat convoluted, and seems to spiral out of control towards the end. It feels like there’s too much going on within an incoherent structure, making the film difficult to fully engage with. The relationship between twins, and more specifically the unique psychic link between Agata and Catalina could have been genuinely interesting but instead feels underdeveloped, usurped by cheap shocks and an unruly use of special effects that feel showy rather than thrilling. Such devices just end up making the finale inevitably flat.
Castaí±eda clearly loves horror, and perhaps this is his homage to such modern classics as The Grudge and The Ring. But KM31 doesn’t add anything new: instead it feels like the director is fastidiously regurgitating aspects of the genre, sticking strictly to convention and budgetary demands. Any attempt to contend in an increasingly competitive international market demands a certain amount of conformity, but it is sad that invention and originality are inevitable casualties. The results make KM31 feel like a victim of Hollywood’s domination. One can only hope that the film’s success will give Castaí±eda the freedom to rein in his enthusiasm and unleash his creativity.
Read the interview with Rigoberto Castaí±eda.