It’s hard to think of a recent film released to the world at a more perfect time than The Platform, a grimy low-budget sci-fi thriller somewhere between Snowpiercer and Saw that follows with unflinching sobriety the gruesome results of a hierarchical system of resource distribution. The debut feature of Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, The Platform premiered at TIFF in September of last year, but nevertheless seems uncannily attuned to the anxious, gloomy pulse of 2020. Though it falters in its last act, the grim, insightful simplicity of its pessimism feels both eternal and undeniably relevant to the current zeitgeist.
The Platform opens in confusion, with our protagonist Goreng (Iván Massagué) awakening in a concrete prison cell with a large hole down its center. His only cellmate is Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), an older, hardened realist who obviously knows much more about their predicament than he does. Through a series of exposition dumps, Trimagasi gradually explains the rules of their prison: every day, a platform of food is lowered down the unfathomably high tower, making brief stops at every floor for each pair of inmates to eat. Allegedly, there is enough food for every occupant in the prison, but that hinges on the trust that everyone will eat their fair share and nothing more. Clearly, that doesn’t happen, and the lower one descends, the bleaker their chances of survival become. Once a month, every pair of cellmates will wake up on a random level; when Goreng and Trimagasi first awaken together, they are on level 48 (“a very good level”, Trimagasi insists). The rest of the film’s runtime follows Goreng as he struggles to survive his tenure in “the Hole” while holding on to some semblance of his humanity.
For most of its runtime, The Platform is a rather effective piece of unpretentious, high-concept horror. It’s concise, thrilling, and (predictably) quite nasty, delivering much of its gory horror with a mundane, matter-of-fact inevitability and a slow whimper of dread. Its frantic jump-cut editing and relentless, pounding score imbue it with the ambience of a grotesque carnival ride, further supplemented by a wildly entertaining performance from Eguileor as Goreng’s ruthlessly pragmatic and occasionally villainous roommate.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing to admire about The Platform though is its effortless blend of ideology and narrative. There are many films that use blunt allegory to criticize the inherent inhumanity of capitalism, but most get so caught up in their metaphor that they forget to convince their audience of much of anything. This isn’t an issue for The Platform, because its simple but audacious premise offers everything it needs to succeed, hardcoding its ideological principles straight into its narrative. It would be a stretch to claim it does much more than condemn the kind of psychopathic behavior capitalism brings out in people (it is a horror movie after all, not a lecture on socialism), but it at least does that well. Everything it presents is based intrinsically on the human condition – not a theoretical analysis of it – and one senses while watching that many people would likely behave similarly under these circumstances.
Unfortunately, its brilliant simplicity doesn’t keep The Platform afloat for all 94 minutes of its runtime, and Gaztelu-Urrutia clearly struggles to carry the premise to feature length. Somewhere a little over halfway through, the film begins to lose steam and feel lost with how to proceed. Its final act is especially frustrating, sputtering out into an anti-climactic eye-roll as it ostensibly loses confidence in its ability to conclude without breaking its narrative rhythm. Regardless, its weak ending doesn’t detract too much from the potent horror and sharp allegory at the heart of its first two acts, and I would quite easily recommend The Platform to anyone searching for something to watch in these uncertain times – as long as one has a tough stomach and tolerance for on-screen cannibalism, that is.