There are three types of people, according to the opening few lines of The Platform: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall between them. It’s that class-structure, that class warfare that is distilled into a brutal allegory, where a vertical prison proves that wealth, simplified in this case as food, doesn’t trickle down from the top few to the many suffering at the bottom. It’s that conceit that forms the backbone of this Spanish horror film, a twisted little fantasy that aims high with socio-political ideas but never lets that get in the way of the gruesome nastiness of its viscera thrills.
Save for a handful of flashback scenes, we never escape the near-future superstructure of “the pit” — a gargantuan underground holding center, in which each floor holds two randomly assigned people. The titular referring “platform” is an immense platter of food, lowered into the pit that stops for a few minutes level by level, so that each of the two residents on each level can survive the day. The leftovers are then lowered to the unfortunate residents below. The lower you are, the less likely there will be anything left on the floating platform that carries the dishes. Each month, the survivors wake up on a different floor, and even the ones who endured the horror of the abyss become oppressors once they get a taste of abundance. Greedy individualism portrayed as its most disturbingly primal.
But through all that madness, we’re focused on Goreng (Ivan Massagué) who wakes up on the 48th level, a good level according to his companion — or is it cellmate? — Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), but that relative good fortune will only last a month. Is this prison? A scientific experiment? Some disturbing reality TV show? Watch out Jennifer Lawrence, because this definitely gives a new meaning to The Hunger Games. With moral ambiguity probing the best and worst of the human condition at every turn, this dystopian allegory isn’t just that the upper floors have their cake and eat it. The argument of director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, making his debut, is also about how society by nature is ruthless, where the top one-percent live in their isolated peaks and leave those at the bottom to go full dog-eat-dog. As hierarchies becomes obvious in Goreng and Trimagasi’s companionship, the film also reveals itself to be pretty obvious and unsubtle, but then again, take a look around, our time isn’t exactly one full of subtly.
After a relatively calm first act of large exposition, the film does start to devise a compelling nightmare that doesn’t in the slightest hold back in its ultraviolence. It’s a film in which “eat or get eaten” takes on a literal meaning. Production designer Azegiñe Urigoitia designs it all with a taut simplicity, helping boost the film’s philosophical thesis. “The pit” itself looks like a brutalist, minimalist hell, but for a film that’s so visually obsessed with the voracious devouring of food and the allusions to class, surprisingly, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover actually comes to mind quite often, even though the twos color palettes couldn’t be more different.
“Obviously,” Trimagasi replies to Goreng’s early inquiries about the mechanics of this nightmare, as if the status quo was absolute and unchangeable. Goreng believes otherwise, but knows that peaceful revolutions don’t exist. And while the film itself can as well be “obvious,” the big finale actually goes with a little too overly cloying fashion. But that this is a horror film of ideas, and for the most part those ideas hit. An unsubtle movie for unsubtle times, The Platform‘s clear, brutal allegory surprisingly isn’t as simply as it looks: not just being about eating the rich, but how the poor slowly devour each other.
The Platform is available to stream on Netflix