May 10, 2007

KM 31: Kilómetro 31 (2006)

Through the history of Mexican cinema, the horror genre has undergone a somewhat irregular development, as even when some excellent masterpieces of horror have been done at times, most of the times the horror movies done show more heart than talent, and even if the intentions are good the final product tends to lack quality in more than one aspect. To make things worse, the total production of horror movies has always been far below than the desired one, and even in the better days of Mexican cinema, horror was often relegated. Due to this reasons, it's always interesting whenever a new Mexican horror movie gets a release, as it's a new chance to make things right and redeem the genre once and for all. That's the reason why the brand new horror film, "Kilómetro 31", gathered so much hype on the days before its release, and while it certainly wasn't the horror film to save the genre, it has some good things going for it.

While driving one night through the forests near Mexico City, Agata Hameran (Iliana Fox) has a terrible accident on kilometer 31 in which she loses her legs and falls into a coma. After that horrible night, her twin sister Catalina (also Iliana Fox) begins to feel a strong psychic connection with her sister, as Agata seems to be screaming desperately for help. Haunted by horrible nightmares and ghastly visions, Catalina decides to investigate what exactly happened that night on kilometer 31, hoping to end the pain her sister is suffering. So, with the help of her best friend Nuño (Adrià Collado) and Agata's boyfriend, Omar (Raúl Méndez), Catalina begins an investigation that will lead her to the mystery behind the strange series of accidents that have happened on kilometer 31 since the construction of the highway.

Written by director Rigoberto Castañeda himself, the story of "Kilómetro 31" is an interesting reworking of many of the most iconic Mexican folk legends and ghost stories all mixed up into one single plot that while certainly modernized, retains that Mexican flavor that makes those legends so enjoyable. He also borrows many elements from the popular New Wave of Asian horror cinema that started in the late 90s, and attempts to adapt them into his own ghost story with some success, resulting into an interesting tale of mystery and horror. While the concept and back-story of the movie are quite interesting and really very well constructed, Castañeda's screenplay has a lot of problems in the development of its main story and its characters, mainly in the poor way most of the dialogs are written and the way the story gets unnecessarily complicated as a result of Castañeda's attempt to mix so many classic stories into one.

As a director, Castañeda has a great eye for visual composition, and is able to create a very atmospheric movie pretty much in the style of "Ringu"'s director Hideo Nakata. However, unlike the Japanese movies that inspired him, Castañeda is more adept to use his many special effects, and he doesn't waste a chance to show off the excellent work of his visual effects team; in fact, through the film he seems to be more comfortable directing the special effects scenes than his human actors, and as a result, he doesn't manage to get a good quality in the cast's performances. Honestly, the work done by both the makeup department and the digital effects department is simply remarkable, probably the best work ever done in the history of Mexican cinema; however, Castañeda seems unable to find a balance and often overuses them in excess.

As written above, the performances of the cast are nothing amazing, and truly hurt a film that certainly deserved better. As the Hameran sisters, Iliana Fox makes a very weak and unsympathetic lead character, almost like one of her characters in Mexican soap operas. Oddly enough, her character is one of the better written in the film, but she seems unable to pull off something good out from it. Spaniard actor Adrià Collado plays Nuño, making a very good performance and delivers the best acting in the film. As Agata's boyfriend, Omar, Raúl Méndez is simply good, nothing special, but considering the bad writing of his character, one could say he did a great job. Carlos Aragon and Luisa Huertas appear in minor roles, Aragon having a nice turn as Officer Ugalde and Huertas delivering a terribly bad performance (like Fox, in a very soap opera style) as the Old lady that guides Catalina.

Due to its very noticeable similarities, "Kilómetro 31" could be considered a direct heir of that popular brand of Asian horror, as often through the film Castañeda shows the enormous influence those movies had in him. This is of course, a double edged sword, as due to his overuse of the conventions and clichés of Asian horror, Castañeda could easily be seen as a director without a style of his own and limited only to copy what has proved to be successful in Asia and the United States. The extreme reliance on special effects and jump scares to make his film "scary" is one major problem the movie has, as often those devises break the good atmosphere that Castañeda manages to create thanks to Alejandro Martínez' excellent cinematography (who clearly has improved his work).

In the end, there is no doubt that "Kilómetro 31" is a work of excellent quality in its production, and with the intentions of being the horror movie to resurrect the Mexican horror genre, however, it's obvious that the intentions of making it "hip", "cool" and therefore commercially successful got in the middle of the making, resulting in an often derivative movie. It's a flawed film, but it's a nice effort that hopefully, will inspire more Mexican filmmakers to give a chance to horror. A final word of advice: if you hated Asian ghost stories, stay away from this film.


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