Written by Greg B
Ten years after Bunuel trapped a group of bourgeoise dinner party guests in the same room together, and twenty four years before Vincenzo Natali locked seven complete strangers within a kafakaesque nightmare in Cube, director Antonio Mercero sealed an unwitting businessman in a telephone booth from hell in the Spanish oddity La Cabina. The film’s plot is viscerally simple. Early one morning a strange group of men from an unnamed company arrive at an anonymous urban square (that looks like something straight out of a Ballard novel) and erect a sleek, blood red phone box. Later that morning, a dapper businessman (Jose Luis Lopez Vasquez) rushes his son off to school. The boy notices the mysterious new phone box before going on his way. The dad decides he needs to make a call and ventures inside. But the phone doesn’t work and the door slowly closes behind him. He tries to exit and can’t. This is where the bizarre and absurd nightmare begins.
(Hm.. So lets get this straight. I’m trapped inside a fucking phone box…)
Theres not much more I can tell y’all about where the plot ventures after this, needless to say it gets ever more bizarre and the sense of foreboding gradually rises to hysterical proportions. With that being said, the narrative never feels drawn out, and the short, punchy running time keeps the action fast paced despite the fact that most of the film takes place in and around a public phone box of all things. Mercero squeezes as much action as he can into the TV movie’s thirty five minute running time and Vazquez’s performance is excellently paced, the character is only given a handful of dialogue (must of which we can’t hear anyway) and so the actor is forced to rely predominantly on facial expressions to emphasize the characters ever escalating anxiety that culminates in an apex of outright panic during the final act of the film. There is never any reason given for the ominous company planting fly trap phone boxes around the city and this mystery only adds to the creepiness of the proceedings. Even when the sinister company returns to reclaim the scarlet casket moments before a fireman is about to bring his axe down on its ceiling, the audience is told nothing about why this is happening, its as if we are in their too, trapped alongside the mustachioed protagonist. Over the course of the film the camera regularly shifts perspectives, moving from inside the tomb like phone booth, to the giddy onlookers who laugh and point at the freak-show that’s pulled up right in the middle of their grey stomping grounds.
If there is a message to the Emmy winning La Cabina, I would posit that it relates to the vulnerability and absurdity of day to day urban existence. Everyone is so wrapped up in their finicky problems that no one takes time to appreciate the smaller comforts of life that most folk take for granted. There is a moment in the film when, after standing in a phone booth in the sun the exhausted man sees an old lady get offered a chair and a lanky man steal some pastries from a salesman tray. Anybody who’s worked a cruddy job knows the fatigue of being on your feet all day and just wanting to sit and be left the fuck alone for a while, and this small touch really helps us all identify with the lonely man in the booth.
There is another wonderful scene when, after being placed on the back of a truck and taken onto the freeway, the man notices another poor businessman stuck in the exact same situation. They meet gaze but all they can do is shout and wave their arms, any wealth or negotiating skills they had don’t mean shit in this situation. It kinda reminded me of the scene in Falling Down when Michael Douglas runs into a fellow urban survivor who is also going through a breakdown within the sprawl of downtown L.A. The two share a surreal but tender moment.
(‘Buy an I Phone she says, there real handy she says…’)
The film’s score is quite dated and further marred by bits of dodgy mickey-mousing, as the man feels his way around the booth looking for a possible means of escape we hear his actions replicated in song on the soundtrack, but to be honest this is the only real complaint I have about this flick. The films final shot is uber menacing and any director that can make a fucking phone booth a threat has achieved something in my books. You can find La Cabina on Youtube and I would definitely advise you to check it out, this little cult gem will certainly make you think twice about nonchalantly stepping into a phone booth anytime in the near future. As an asied, I’m no fan of remakes, but dare I say that this is a movie where it might actually work…