Synopsis – A vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people per cell. One only food platform and two minutes per day to feed from up to down. An endless nightmare trapped in The Hole.
My Take – While science fiction is a genre which is often presented on a large scale replenished with grand visuals, it is more often, when placed in a closed environment, it tends to thrive more. And as a distributor, Netflix, seems to understand that, with their latest film, a Spanish science-fiction horror-thriller originally titled El Hoyo, being the perfect example.
Premiering at 2019’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness, this film helmed by debutante director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, is an intriguing entry that makes good use of allegorical trappings to talk about the familiar tropes of classicist symbolism, but with enough visual distinction and creative thrills to keep one engaged across for its 94 minute run time.
Working as an allegory for the dark levels of a human nature and social class they live in, the film succeeds in leaving a high impression with its presentation and simple premise. Though its other aspects, like character depth, are somewhat lacking, it still manages to be an intelligent exploration of existential dilemma, among other things, making it an excellent companion piece to other thematically similar films.
The story follows Goreng (Iván Massagué), who wakes up on Level 48 of a towering prison facility, to begin his six month voluntary imprisonment, in order to quit smoking and earn a diploma. Quickly introduced to Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), his older and creepier cellmate, Goreng finds himself placed in a two-person concrete cell, stacked one on top of another, with a hole in the ceiling and floor which allows the passage of a table full of immaculately presented but decadent food from the very top of the tower to the very bottom.
While Trimagasi gorges himself upon the soiled scraps, Goreng simply refuses at first, but it immediately becomes clear to him, that things are going to get difficult soon. Mainly, as each month, the cellmates wake up on a different floor, and the further down your placed, the lesser the food you get, leading to occasional suicides and murder among inmates. Things begin to get more brutal when Gorgen comes across a freaky young woman named Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay), who is often found riding the platform to different levels, with bloody results.
The simplicity of the story, in addition to its limited number of characters, make The Platform feel like a stage play at times. We feel the claustrophobia and danger of the setting, yet the film is always very concise in its editing; the passage of time is handled efficiently and the film swaps between reality and the character’s imagination without any jarring transitions.
Most of the dialogue is between cellmates as they discuss their circumstances and reasons for incarceration. But it is director Gaztelu-Urrutia’s deft touches and cinematic flourishes elevate the nominal screenplay, turning these unadorned conversations into real moments of psychological dread.
Combined with a set of well-established rules, this creates an element of unpredictability; you’ll be wondering where Goreng will wake up next and who he will encounter. On top of this, the intense psychological strain is a constant presence; the lack of something substantial to eat and the endless boredom eating away at the inmates. It’s certainly a gritty vision of the future and the narrative pushes forward well, making use of montages to avoid dragging the pace.
The film does a great job of exploring many intellectual and philosophical dilemmas despite the overall premise being a deceptively simple scenario. In a metaphorical sense, the film is all about what humans do when they’re put in a desperate situation and the effect it has on others; the tower prison itself is an experiment, designed to test one’s sanity until it snaps. The platform is our world, and the administration are the governments, and the levels are the social classes that are created.
People in the top-tier have access to all of the resources available on the Earth, while those in the bottom are hungry and homeless. While the Earth has enough to feed everyone, there’s a shortage due to inequitable distribution. The issue could be solved with the right kind of education and awareness but people on the top do not want to give up their privilege. The only difference in this film is that while people on the top floor can enjoy plenty of food for one month, there is no guarantee that they would do so again in the next month. In real life, on the other hand, the rich remain rich and the poor only perish.
While I found the film excellent in many ways, it does contain a few flaws, like for some reason, the film slows down in the second half, and leads to a brutal but unique ending, which I believe would not go down well with some.
Performance wise, everyone does quite well. As the lead, Iván Massagué is very likable and relatable, while Zorion Eguileor is effectively creepy. In other roles, Antonia San Juan, Alexandra Masangkay, Emilio Buale Coka and Eric L. Goode are impressive. On the whole, ‘The Platform’ is a compelling, gory yet very entertaining science-fiction horror-thriller that is uplifted by a terrific script.
Directed – Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes