This staggeringly cruel comedy from Spain traumatises the viewer by entrusting them with a heart-breaking secret and then relentlessly torments them with the paranoia of its inevitable revelation.
Jesus and Maria are feeling the strain of a new baby combined with a move to a new apartment. They have been reduced to a bickering mess of thinly veiled resentment and scathing character assassinations. Jesus is sick of Maria controlling all the decisions and resolves to purchase a truly garish coffee table as an act of spiteful rebellion.
The emotional carnage that follows will drag Jesus into the epicentre of a living nightmare of denial. When his brother and his younger girlfriend arrive for a catch-up lunch it is just a matter of time before everyone, including the audience, is left psychologically mauled.
Director Caya Casas’ gruelling tragicomedy is a paralysing panic attack that feels like a masterclass in cinematic bullying. In order to maximise discomfort it obliterates taboos and revels in deeply poisonous irony before weaponizing the traditional skylarking of farce. You will laugh, often out of incredulity and sheer nervousness, and will soundly despise yourself for doing so. This is cinema for people who think Black Mirror plays it too safe and the ending of The Mist was overly upbeat.
The key twist that springs the mechanism of this harrowing hurt-locker happens relatively early on. This makes any review a potential spoiler minefield. Suffice it to say, it will leave you reeling and questioning if you even want to see what happens next. It really is best to go in as cold as the heart of this devastating movie if you are to experience fully its gut-punching malignance.
Casas and Cristina Borobia‘s manipulative screenplay is nothing short of magnificent. In making us complicit in Jesus’ deluded altruism we become uncomfortable allies and unwilling accomplices. Frequently hilarious it writhes with sarcasm and satire whilst constantly poking and probing our own perceptions of protection and morality.
This thorny, toxin-dipped material is embraced and built upon by the film’s brilliant cast. Tone, comedic timing, and authentic poignancy combine to make their car crash predicaments simultaneously unwatchable and compelling. As The Coffee Table darts between calamitous domestic farce and soul-draining aftermath, the actors remain focused and committed. David Pareja is particularly striking as Jesus, an essentially kindly man buffeted by uninvited romance and conflicted by masculine autonomy.
The couple is assured by the oily furniture salesman that the tacky table ‘will bring happiness to their new home’. Jesus’ brother’s girlfriend turns up wearing a ‘No Bad Days’ t-shirt. A neighbour’s doormat bears the slogan ‘Smile At Life’. These collocations typify the film’s approach to irony. Waggish and playful in its visual incarnation, but hideously harrowing in its dramatic form.
Easily the best feel-bad movie since Katrin Gebbe‘s nihilist classic Nothing Bad Can Happen, The Coffee Table is an unethical ambush that is guaranteed to shock and surprise. The premise may well be simplistic, however, its brutal execution is creatively nuanced and emotionally petrifying. Depressing and distressing it could well be the most unapologetically bleak and blatantly triggering comedy film of all time.
Very Dark Comedy, Horror Drama | Spain, 2023 | Cert. 15 | 91 mins | Grimmfest 2023 | Cinephobia Releasing | Dir.
Caya Casas | With:Estefanía de los Santos, David Pareja, Josep Riera, Claudia Riera, Eduardo Antuña