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A modest but effective piece of genre filmmaking, the pitch-black Spanish horror “The Coffee Table” mines the mundane for genuine terror.

Coffee Table

The horror genre has a long history of trying to make inanimate objects scary, often with mixed results. From the evil dress of Peter Strickland’s In Fabric to the man-eating bed in Death Bed: The Bed that Eats to the possessed laundry press of Stephen King’s “The Mangler,” it seems the more mundane the object, the higher potential for terror.

The Coffee Table (La mesita del comedor), a Spanish import from writer/director Caye Casas, attempts to add the titular piece of furniture to that esteemed company, though its horror is more mundane and probably more effective.

Jesús and María (a bit on the nose, those names, but played well by David Pareja and Estefanía de los Santos) are a married couple who have finally had a baby later in life. While María has long wanted a child, Jesús wasn’t entirely convinced. But nevertheless, the baby’s here, and it’s time to feather the nest.

Jesús picks out a garish glass-topped coffee table, mostly out of spite after María criticizes it, assured by the sweaty furniture salesman (Eduardo Antuña) that it will bring them great happiness. But when María leaves to get groceries, the absolute unthinkable happens, forcing Jesús to hide the truth from María as well as his visiting brother Carlos (Josep María Riera) and his new girlfriend Cristina (Claudia Riera), his sanity fraying from guilt and horror.

The film unfolds with a sickening sense of inevitability as the audience is locked into Jesús’s unraveling mind, forced to share his dreadful secret.

It presents a new twist on the old Hitchcockian “bomb under the table” theory of suspense as we wait to see what will happen when the truth is revealed.

It’s very modest in scope, taking us through its horrific situation in very literal detail, not straying far from the couple’s apartment and the awful secret contained within.

The Coffee Table is undeniably a very well-made movie. The acting is great, particularly from Pareja and de los Santos as a believably bickering but loving couple, and Casas’ decision to keep its most disturbing moments offscreen only adds to the horror.

The scene when the inciting incident happens is particularly effective, seeming entirely normal until the moment it becomes very much not. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there wasn’t really anything going on under the surface.

The film does touch on some resonant themes, from fears of parenting to relentless adherence to societal expectations and materialism.

However, most of those threads don’t really go anywhere once the grisly details start unfolding. It’s plenty horrifying at face value, but I couldn’t help but wish there was a little more meat on the bones.

Still, as a modest piece of domestic horror that tells its straightforward but audacious story well, The Coffee Table is worth bringing into your home, though it’s unlikely to lead to a lifetime of happiness.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
THE COFFEE TABLE will kick off its American festival run at Fantastic Fest 2023. Additional festival screenings will be announced throughout the fall. You’ll have to wait a bit for DVD and VOD; it will be out in January.

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