[Review] 9:40 (Fantastic Fest): All Aboard for a Bizarre Bus Ride

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.

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.