Worst Day Ever 

Cell 211: Thanks for the Tension Headache, Spain!

CELL 211 Prisons in Spain sure look like a lot more fun.

CELL 211 Prisons in Spain sure look like a lot more fun.

THE FIRST DAY at a new job can be so awkward. You don't know how to work your swivelly chair, and you have to eat lunch by yourself in the parking lot, and you can't find the bathroom but you feel weird asking because it seems too soon to bring up the excretory system seeing as you just met these people, and then during your tour of the facilities you get hit with a homemade projectile whittled by a madman, so your boss has you lie down in an empty room to recuperate, but just then a deadly prison riot takes over the entire building and your boss runs off and leaves you for dead, so you have to impersonate a bloodthirsty murderer just to avoid getting shivved in the eyeball by a gang of violent but morally ambiguous Spaniards.

The above is what happens to Juan Oliver—a prison guard on his first day of work—in Cell 211, a Spanish thriller so stressful it just might compress your brain into a diamond (most likely fatal. But hey! Free diamond!). Stuck in the titular concrete hole at exactly the worst possible moment in hole history, Juan has to think fast—stripping himself of all civilian accoutrements, affecting a felonious scowl, and becoming BFFs with the riot's mastermind.

I'm going to go out on an entirely subjective limb here and say that incarceration is literally the most interesting thing that humans do. And Cell 211 tells a terrific prison story. As Juan, determined to get out alive, adapts to his new environs, his sympathies (and ours) shift in startling but wholly believable ways. The further the film unravels and the worse things get for Juan, the more the real villains of this monster movie make themselves known. They are, of course, the ones on the outside—the guards, the wardens, the government, whose crimes are doubly insidious because they masquerade as justice. It's a pretty heavy-handed point, and less nuanced than it needs to be, so if you must walk out of Cell 211 with a message, make it this: Sucks to be Juan. WORST FIRST DAY OF WORK EVER.

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