The Mexican horror short 9:40 plays like a classic episode of The Twilight Zone with a climax on steroids. The story may feel a bit familiar, and many genre film fans might well guess where it is headed, but writer/director Jorge Morrell and his cast and crew make the ride an intriguing one, nevertheless.
Kristyan Ferrer stars as Sebastian, a young man who seems to be the lone passenger at a quiet bus station. As he purchases his ticket and goes through a security check, a television news bulletin announces that a bus accident has claimed 13 lives. As Sebastian’s bus arrives, a woman makes eye contact with him before boarding. Taking his seat, Sebastain sees and hears a variety of fellow passengers, who begin to start acting strangely.
Although the visuals are arresting in 9:40, it’s the one-two punch of the mesmerizing sound design by Francisco Herrera Alfonsin and the haunting score by Daniel “Vago” Galindo that cements the eeriness of the situation in which Sebastian finds himself. These two aural elements play off one another masterfully, sometimes one using the other as a launching pad for the next sonic cue.
Ferrer is terrific in an understated performance as the confused passenger. His emotional reveal at the climax is superb, his face showing strong emotions in a dialogue-free shot.
Taking place mostly in the confines of the bus and a few areas of the bus station, 9:40 weaves its unnerving spell with little blood and no gore. It revels in a slow-building sense of dread, and is bound to leave viewers with the creeps long after its approximate running time of 11 minutes.
9:40 screened at Fantastic Fest, which ran in Austin, Texas, from September 19–26.