Though utterly shocking and bleak, Caye Casas’ The Coffee Table is a unique standout, that will have audiences talking for years to come.
Of all the films showing at Fantastic Fest, Caye Casas’ The Coffee Table is undeniably one of the most unforgettable. Without giving too much away, I can confidently say that this feature will leave even the least sensitive of viewers floored. The subject matter reflected is dark and distressing and since watching the film 24 hours ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
At the beginning of The Coffee Table, viewers are transported to a furniture store and introduced to a very determined salesman, who gives couple Jesús and María his pitch on why they should buy a rather hideous coffee table. María refuses to leave the store with such an eyesore, while Jesús is adamant about purchasing it. It’s clear that María calls the shots in the relationship, including the decision to have a baby, and the pair have recently become parents. In the end, Jesús’ eagerness to acquire the coffee table comes off as an act of rebellion against his partner, as opposed to a genuine interest in the piece of furniture. To convince María to get on board, the salesman proclaims, “And I guarantee that this table, due to its design and standard, will change your life for the better.” Let’s just say one part of that sentence is true, though it’s far from a good thing.
I wasn’t familiar with the cast’s previous work, but the performances given in The Coffee Table are sensational. David Pareja and Estefanía de los Santos are a powerful duo and perfectly portray a couple who have been together for quite some time, though the honeymoon period has been and gone. Not only do they have differing opinions on most things and bicker frequently, but the spark between the two has dwindled, especially since the arrival of their son.
As a film with such an emphasis on dread, which is depicted from Jesús’ point of view after a tragic incident takes place, The Coffee Table could have failed to deliver if the performance of the male lead didn’t showcase the trauma that would accompany such a harrowing event. Thankfully, Pareja nails the assignment as he illustrates a multitude of emotions and gives one of the best performances I’ve seen in a film this year.
Casas’ use of camera close-ups on Jesús captures the inner turmoil that he’s facing and keeps the tension alive throughout the film’s 90-minute runtime, and it’s only a matter of time before the secret he’s keeping is revealed. As the audience experiences the tragedy with Jesús, you not only feel empathy for him but also share his heightened anticipation.
Where The Coffee Table falters is its attempts to sprinkle comedic one-liners into the storyline, as it’s hard to appreciate the humor with such bleakness at the film’s core. I understand that the filmmakers were attempting to bring light to the situation, but with such devasting subject matter, it didn’t feel appropriate nor fitting when blended with the thriller/horror elements.
That said, The Coffee Table is ballsy and unlike anything I have ever seen before. Though gut-wrenching, it cleverly depicts how a decision we deem insignificant may impact the rest of our lives. There will be some viewers who hate this film while others praise its uniqueness, and I can understand both points of view. It’s upsetting and shocking, and if you decide to watch it, once the film concludes, you’ll want to indulge in feel-good movies for a week straight.
The Coffee Table was screened at Fantastic Fest 2023.