AtrapadosATRAPADOS (1981) is one of the world’s 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 “Triptych,” 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 it’s been largely forgotten, which I find downright inexplicable, as forgettable is definitely not a word I’d use to describe ATRAPADOS!

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 won’t be getting out any time soon (or ever), Carlos undergoes a change of heart. He comes to share his partner’s 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 Alba.

Whatever else ATRAPADOS is, it’s definitely unique. It may share certain conceptual similarities with other films—notably Paul Bartel’s similarly themed SHELF LIFE (1993)—but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything quite like ATRAPADOS.

It’s 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 Patrick’s 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. It’s 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 don’t 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, don’t detract from the film’s haunting power, which remains distinct and unprecedented.

Vital Statistics

Panorama Productions

Director/Producer/Cinematography: Matthew Patrick
Screenplay: Julio Torresoto
Editing: Matsuo Kuhara
Cast: Julio Torresoto, Sonia Vivas, Charlene Koh, Mark Massi