ATRAPADOS (1981) is one of the worldís great unknown cult films, a
shocking, nightmarish, mind-expanding apocalyptic parable.
ATRAPADOS (TRAPPED) was a labor of love for its
screenwriter and lead actor Julio Torresoto, who in the course of the
film goes from chubby to alarmingly gaunt, and filmmaker Matthew
Patrick, whose first feature this was. The latter had previously won a
student Academy Award for his short film ďTriptych,Ē and went on to helm
the 1989 Gary Busey vehicle
HIDER IN THE HOUSE.
ATRAPADOS was an American production lensed mostly in
New York, yet the spoken language is Spanish, making it a foreign film.
As such it got a fair amount of traction on the early-1980s festival
circuit, winning the Silver Medal at the Houston International Film
Festival. Since then itís been largely forgotten, which I find downright
inexplicable, as forgettable is definitely not a word Iíd use to
One morning two strangers, the demure academician Alba
and the rotund plumber Carlos (who are unknowingly connected by the fact
that he once tried to molest her in an alley), become trapped in her
basement apartment by some unspecified catastrophe. In this lightless
environment, a bizarre universe unto itself, the two are assailed by
hallucinations and memories of their former lives while attempting to
find some common ground. Alba is sustained by her resolutely
philosophical outlook and disciplined approach to life, but Carlos, true
to his nature, just wants to consume everything in sight while
constantly attempting to dig his way out.
Yet as time stretches on and it becomes clear they
wonít be getting out any time soon (or ever), Carlos undergoes a change
of heart. He comes to share his partnerís humanist views and regret his
former life, in the process shedding innumerable pounds. As for Alba,
she finds herself falling in love with the new, more enlightened Carlos.
They have sex and Alba becomes pregnant. She hopes to
give birth to a son or daughter who will be the first step in
repopulating the Earth, but the child she births is a mutant who lacks
reproductive organs. Before long it starves to death, as do Carlos and
Whatever else ATRAPADOS is, itís definitely unique. It
may share certain conceptual similarities with other films--notably Paul
Bartelís similarly themed SHELF LIFE (1993)--but youíll be hard-pressed
to find anything quite like ATRAPADOS.
Itís deeply hallucinatory yet also quite lucid in its
approach, not unlike a coherent ERASERHEAD. The film is also jam-packed
with phantasmagoric lighting effects (carried over from Matthew
Patrickís seventies-era experimental shorts) and an eerie electronic
score, yet its most striking and ingenious effect is one of the most
simple: the use of tinted black-and-white visuals for the basement
sequences, which succeed in creating a genuinely otherworldly
psychoscape through varying hues of darkness.
The film is not without annoyances. Itís quite
heavy-handed in its overriding message about the virtues of clean living
(the apocalyptic premise being an obvious metaphor), while the constant
dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks are a bit too copious, and a few
scenes simply donít work (such as a bit in which Carlos fantasizes about
running around the streets of NYC trying to warn people that they too
can become trapped). Those things, however, donít detract from the
filmís haunting power, which remains distinct and unprecedented.
Director/Producer/Cinematography: Matthew Patrick
Screenplay: Julio Torresoto
Editing: Matsuo Kuhara
Cast: Julio Torresoto, Sonia Vivas, Charlene Koh, Mark Massi