The Coffee Table (Cinephobia Releasing, NR)

The Coffee Table gave me one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had watching a film, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. Directed and co-written by Caye Casas, an up-and-coming Spanish director and writer who has made a budding career from films with this kind of horror-adjacent tone, The Coffee Table mixes drama and dread in some very unique ways. Whether you’d label it a horror film or not, it is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Jesús (David Pareja) and María (Estefanía de los Santos) are a somewhat mismatched, not-yet-married couple who don’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye, despite the new presence of Cayetano, their infant son. The couple’s conflict’s are laid bare early on when they purchase the titular table. What María says about the table is objectively true — it’s tacky and downright hideous: two faux gold statuettes of nude women holding up a pane of glass. Jesús, who complains that he has not been allowed to choose anything about the wedding, their new home, or even have any input as to his own son’s name, eventually wears María down in order to buy the table. Ironically, he’s the only one who wants it, as even the sleazy furniture salesman (Eduardo Antuña) admits it’s tasteless.

What follows is basically every parent’s worst nightmare. An irreparable accident occurs, partially due to mounting tensions in the relationship. Though it never comes across as a totally loveless pairing, there are hints at handsome Jesús’ troubled past and inability to keep other women at bay. These hints tend to suggest he chose the slightly older María partially for reasons of convenience. For María’s part, her strong desire to finally have children might not have yielded the best possible father she could find. The majority of the film deals with Jesús’ guilt over the accident, and it is profoundly harrowing, to say the least.

The accident and its fallout provide interesting lenses through which to view the film’s themes. As per what I just described, there are a plethora of things we could judge this couple for, but no one would ever wish what happens to them on anyone. As the day continues and Jesús’ brother Carlos (Josep Maria Riera) comes over for dinner along with his much younger girlfriend Cristina (Claudia Riera), the things we might judge this second couple for get put into a different context as well. We’re all just trying to figure out our place in this world. None of us are perfect. It’s a shame that tragedy is too often the only thing that reminds us of that.

As gripping, well-staged, and well-acted as it is, the film isn’t without its fair share of issues. There’s a subplot involving one of the suspicions surrounding Jesús that is totally unnecessary, kind of confusing, and definitely feels like a hat on a hat (or a table on a table, as the case may be). Additionally, while those themes I mentioned are certainly present throughout, the one-note arc of the overall story can sometimes feel like little more than a well-made exercise in stress. However, if you’re up to that stressful challenge (and believe me, it is a challenge), The Coffee Table is not only shockingly disquieting, but can also be surprisingly intellectually rewarding. | George Napper

In Spanish with English subtitles

The Coffee Table is now available on many video-on-demand platforms.

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