Shocking Horror Movie ‘The Coffee Table’ Is Earning Raves From Stephen King. Its Director Wants Audiences to ‘Suffer’ and ‘Hate Me’

The poster for the innocuously named “The Coffee Table” notes that it is “A Cruel Caye Casas Film.” The unique designation is certainly fitting, given the storm of controversy it’s stirring up among horror fans. The comically vague logline for the Spanish film — new parents buy a coffee table that will change their lives forever — hides a shocking incident that happens early on. Said incident is not for the faint of heart, and director and co-writer Casas is eager to not only lean into the controversy but take willing audiences on an emotional journey of horror without monsters or the supernatural.

Without spoiling the central incident, Casas explained his film to Variety, including how much he wanted to push audiences, the unique title and how he reacted when Stephen King recommended his work.

(Note: This interview was conducted over email for accuracy between the Spanish and Catalan-speaking Casas and the English-speaking author.)

How did the idea for this film come about?

We had the idea very clear for years. I love genre films, but few films really scare me. So I asked myself, ‘What scares me most in life?’ And the answer was not ghosts, monsters, or zombies. What scares me the most is real life, a cruel destiny, the bad luck that any of us can have, and the terrible things that can happen to us in life. I believe that hell exists, and it is not a place with fire and the Devil. Hell is what we can live if destiny is cruel. So the idea was clear, the problem was that we had no money, we only had a house that a friend of mine left us and 10 days to shoot it. But we knew that the script was very powerful, everyone who read it was shocked, so that despite not having resources, time, or money, we decided to film.

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Who do you think the audience for this movie is? Are there some people who wouldn’t be able to handle it?

I have always thought that the film is aimed at audiences who want strong, extreme, unforgettable emotions. The horror audience is like that. I am a member of the horror audience and my great hope is to make them suffer, have a terrible time, hate me, but above all make them feel strong emotions. Now many productions are made with a lot of money that don’t make you feel anything, which is always the same, that you forget about them two days after seeing them. I think that “The Coffee Table” makes anyone who sees it feel an unforgettable experience, whether they like it or not. In fact, it is not for everyone, there are people who will not tolerate it, and I understand that.

What have audience reactions been like so far? Have you seen walkouts?

People’s response has been fucking incredible. I have gone to many festivals with the film, to many countries, and people always react by being shocked, they can’t believe what they see. Some leave the room, they can’t stand it, but there is also laughter about it. Black humor, the most macabre laugh, others feel guilty for laughing, but the majority have a very bad time, tension, anxiety. It is very fun to see the faces of the audience. In Mexico, they insulted me while watching the film. It was a joke, but they insulted me for torturing them — although, later, that same audience gave me the audience award at the Macabre Festival.

We are the horror film with the most awards worldwide in 2023 (more than 40 awards), and that is incredible, to be rewarded for making those emotions. But I will explain to you the strongest thing that happened to me with the public, something very strong at the wonderful TIFF Festival in Romania. There were about a thousand people in the room, a huge, full cinema. When the film ended, we did the Q&A, and one viewer said that she was shocked, because almost the same thing had happened to her that happened to the protagonist of the film. Afterward, she thanked me for being so brave to explain tragedies like that, because they happen, and it happened to her, and finally she said that it had served as a catharsis, and she went home more at peace with herself. It left a thousand people speechless.

As a filmmaker, were you trying to show empathy for any of the characters, or just portray the events neutrally?

All the characters have something personal, they have something of mine, all of them. With these characters, I wanted to convey how any of our lives can change in a second, we can experience real hell and we don’t need monsters or zombies or anything to live in hell. Let everyone judge the characters as they want, I don’t, they came from my head and there is no one that is my favorite. What is important is that only the protagonist and the audience know what has happened, and that makes the tension unbearable, it makes the audience suffer as much as the protagonist, and that is what works like a time bomb.

How did you decide how much of the key incident in the movie you wanted to show onscreen?

I was clear that I did not want to make a gore film, and I was clear that imagination is an important weapon that the public has. Why show certain things when in your thinking it could be worse? You have to make the viewer’s mind work, sometimes less is more, and imagining what is happening is sometimes stronger than seeing it. It was very clear that some scenes were going to be shot out of frame, so that they could be seen as little as possible, the audience already knows that what happened is horrible.

There is lighthearted music playing during some dark moments. What was the inspiration behind that juxtaposition?

To be contradictory. When a great tragedy happens, sometimes it is better not to play the typical scary music and instead play a children’s song, as in this case. It is more disturbing, and with the composer of the OST, Bambikina, we were clear that we did not want to make the typical horror movie soundtrack, because this is not the typical horror movie. It’s different from everything, and the soundtrack had to be too.

Did you always have the ending in mind while writing the film?

Yes, always. But a curious thing happened. While filming I invented a different ending, more macabre, more twisted, more spectacular… unique, that would leave the audience completely dead in their seats. But I couldn’t shoot it because I didn’t have money or time. I hope that if a remake of the film is made I can shoot it. A remake with more resources would be the bomb, and with that ending it would become one of the darkest endings in the history of cinema, for sure!

What was the inspiration behind naming the film, simply, “The Coffee Table”?

All horror movies have powerful, dark, scary names. I wanted to make a terrifying film but with a harmless, ridiculous, everyday name… “The Coffee Table,” and in Spanish, “La Mesita Del Comedor.” Seriously, is a movie like that, that disturbing? The answer is yes. I also wanted to trick the viewer, I’m going to watch this movie with this silly name, and wham! They are left speechless. Besides, it is clear that the coffee table is the main protagonist of the film… don’t you think?

Do you want to focus on more horror movies and dark dramas in the future?

I have several projects for which I am looking for money. I have a very terrifying, unbearable, brutal but also philosophical one that would make horror audiences’ heads explode. It is titled “Dreams” and it is brutal. I have others that are incredible black comedies, so that people have a good time laughing at death, like a movie called “Bad Death.” Another cruel and macabre horror titled “Welcome,” another about a really disturbing television show titled “Luciferio.” But I also have films that are not 100% genre, like “Nothing Co” (which is one of my favorite stories) or “Mom’s Wish,” which is an original and different comedy. I like almost all genres, but I have a great time writing horror. Now the important thing is to find financing so that they exist and the public has fun… Is there anyone interested?

Stephen King tweeted that he loved the movie. What does it mean to have a horror master praise your work?

There is only one King of Terror, and that is Stephen King. What more can I say? That the King recommends your film to his audience, that he says that it is the darkest thing he has ever seen… It’s so exciting, it’s one of those things that I will explain to my grandchildren (although I don’t have children). It’s one of those things that you think will never happen and it does. The King has recommended an independent Spanish film shot in 10 days at a friend’s house and with a ridiculous budget. And not only the King has done it, but also teachers like [director] Mick Garris, who was the one who sent the film to Stephen King because he loved it. It’s an orgasm. I won’t tell you that I masturbated watching the King’s tweet talking about my movie (did I?), but I will die with a smile on my face just thinking about it.

“The Coffee Table” is now available on VOD. Watch the trailer below.

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