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DIRECTED BY: Antonio Mercero
FEATURING: José Luis López Vázquez
PLOT: A man becomes trapped inside a telephone booth, with no prospects for escape.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: “La Cabina” is distilled horror, a bizarre situation boiled down to its most basic elements, unfolding briskly but methodically as it approaches a surprising but inevitable climax. You’ll never really understand what’s going on, but you can utterly empathize with the threatened protagonist and the way his plight only grows more alarming.
COMMENTS: The fifth and final season of “The Twilight Zone” was noteworthy for giving one of its episodes over to a French short film adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s darkly cruel “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” With potent visuals and a classically unsettling twist ending, “Occurrence” was a perfect fit for the show, and also went on to nab that year’s Oscar for Best Short Film. It’s fun to imagine an alternate universe where the show continued for years, because “La Cabina” would have been the absolute highlight of a prospective Twilight Zone Season 13. The Spanish short contains all the elements that make for a great episode of the show, right down to a shocking twist that rivals those found in such classic installments as “Time Enough At Last” or “To Serve Man.”
The setup for “La Cabina” is devilishly simple. In the space of a couple minutes, we meet our hero as he sends his son off to school, and then watch him enter the telephone box that we’ve seen a team of workers construct. From there, the film rests on the shoulders of López as he watches helplessly from his Plexiglas cocoon while onlookers laugh at his predicament, good-naturedly try to help, then surrender and lose interest as their efforts bear no fruit. Known in his home country as a comic actor, López adroitly conveys the poor man’s journey from irritation to fear to despair without a word of dialogue. His distress is especially acute as those same construction workers return—not to extricate him but to hoist the box onto a flatbed truck for a long journey to points unknown. Even as he tries to communicate with a similarly trapped traveler or exchanges pitiful looks with a collection of circus freaks who have now found someone they can pity, López never lets you forget that he’s a decent fellow who has found himself in an especially bad spot, which helps to sell the story’s final transformation into surreal horror.
There are theories about what it all means. It could be an allegory for life under the regime of Francisco Franco, when people could be snatched off the street, never to be seen again. Or it might be a metaphor for the uncertainties of life, as a normal day can easily take an unexpected and even tragic turn. It could also be read as an “Everyman”-type tale expressing the notion that when fate comes, nothing can save us. That a very basic tale about a guy who gets stuck in a telephone booth can carry the weight of such interpretations is a testament to the sturdiness of Mercero’s storytelling. “La Cabina” is truly remarkable, though, for the wonderful outlandishness of its “what-if” premise.
“La Cabina” left an impression in Spanish pop culture, so much so that López could reprise his role in a commercial for a telecommunications company more than two decades later. It’s not as well-known on this side of the Atlantic, but for aficionados of the horrifying twist, it’s a can’t-miss look at the shocks that can arise out of the most banal moments in life. Sure, you can learn the lesson about keeping an extra pair of glasses for after the nuclear armageddon. But the dangers of making a phone call? “The Twilight Zone” can hardly compete.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…La cabina continues to be no less entertaining when simultaneously becoming more and more weird and shocking… If you see the film for the first time, at the end, you may not be excessively surprised but you’ll be most likely wondering how it’s happened you haven’t seen La cabina before.” – John Moscow, Review Maze
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Atlas Obscura – Surely one of the only short films in history to earn a public monument, the city of Madrid commemorated the 50th anniversary of “La Cabina” by constructing a replica of the title box a stone’s throw away from the original shooting location.
(This movie was nominated for review by marc. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)