Review: The Platform (2019)

Distributor: Netflix

Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

Writers: David Desola, Pedro Rivero

Composer: Aránzazu Calleja

Starring: Ivan Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale, Alexandra Masangkay

Genre: Horror, Sc-Fi, Thriller

It’s not nice to generalize, but let’s face it: Netflix is a dumping ground for American cinema. Sure, there are fantastic niche films (like Annihilation, Marriage Story, The Irishman) that sadly wouldn’t survive a theatrical release thanks to the market being flooded with certain big-budget genres. Yet they are few and far between. For the most part it seems that online streaming sites are great for mediocre movies that are too generic to sell enough tickets on their own (The Main Event, Fall Girl, A Fall From Grace), or uneven films with difficult demographics or are otherwise flawed. I’m looking at you, Every Time I Die (horrid first act set up), Coffee & Kareem (a grotesque amount of foul language despite the main character being a child), and Saving Zoe (bad audio coupled with a surprisingly dark third act).

Yet the same cannot be said for foreign films. For them, sites like Netflix provide a wonderful opportunity—a theatrical release is typically limited in their situation, and so online streaming expands their reach that would otherwise be unachievable. This means that Netflix tends to host the foreign films that are silver screen worthy; the cream of the crop! After randomly sampling recent releases on Netflix from various nations (The Occupant, The Decline, Eye For An Eye, Earth and Blood, Azali, A Sun, The Endless Trench, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo) on average the foreign content is certainly offering more consistency in quality as opposed to American films, which can vary wildly from a diamond in the rough to scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel (definitely looking at you, Deadcon).

So when a foreign film like The Platform not only causes a stir but also manages to climb the ranks on Netflix, you better believe it’s worth a look. It might not just be good, but exceptional.  

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: The horror of this movie does not stem from jump scares or excessive gore (although there are some gruesome scenes), but rather the bleak situation itself. Characters are placed in a situation where they are starved to the extent they resort to violence, murder, and cannibalism. Close up shots of stabbings and blunt force trauma injuries. Realistic level of blood depicted. Shot of cancer-riddled skin. Characters eat human flesh. An animal’s entrails are seen after being killed in a violent manner (off-screen). Several suicides: falling from a great height, and one hanging. The spirits of several characters that have passed away continue to have conversations with the protagonist, though they look like normal people. There is frequent talk about murder and the prospect of cannibalism.

Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped roughly 25 times, littered amongst other obscenities and name-calling. Jesus’ name is used in vain. Defecating and urinating on other people is seen in the film.

Drug/Alcohol References: The main character is a smoker. He smokes on screen in a scene, though he wishes to quit and other characters lament on how cigarettes are unhealthy. Characters are seen drinking wine with reckless abandon, trying to drink as much as they can in short spaces of time.

Sexual Content: A woman’s breasts are exposed. Very brief/barely visible male nudity; two men sit naked in a child’s wading pool, while in another scene two men converse while unclothed. In a dream sequence, a man kisses a woman, though it is unclear if there’s sexual intercourse. Rape is implied through dialogue.

Spiritual Content: One character questions whether there is a God, while another is a fervent believer. Some viewers interpret the film as to containing a Christ figure, or whether the actions in the film reflect the brutality of the Church when spreading a message of mercy.

Other Negative Content: The entire film is based around a scenario that is inherently cruel and experimental; it is a world that is impartial about the value of life.

Positive Content: The entire thrust of the narrative tries to upend a system that systemically unjust, ultimately promoting selfless acts and the need to challenge corruption despite its apparent futility.

Review

Every so often a film comes along presenting an utterly bizarre concept. Yet as removed as the story is from reality, it surprisingly manages to highlight and summarize some of life’s most complicated notions and problems. Dystopian films, such as Brazil and 12 Monkeys, contain odd little worlds and freakish futures that serve as a lesson to modern day audiences. The horror genre is also renown for featuring such morals through the use of allegory and metaphor—who would have guessed that The Babadook would end up being one of the best portrayals of grief on film, whilst Get Out’s sunken place equipped some audiences with a new way to communicate their experiences regarding racism and privilege.   

The Platform—a dystopian horror film—naturally has the capacity to wield the most wild and far-fetched metaphors and allegories a narrative can muster. It features a deceptively simplistic world; a prison-like community where the cells are structured vertically like in a skyscraper, with two people living per floor. In the middle of each level is a hole, and every day a table descends with food, stopping on each floor for two minutes at a time, before lowering to serve the next two people living underneath. Hoarding food is forbidden, causing the room’s temperature to either rise or plummet to fatal levels until the food is returned to the central platform. Also, every month the inmates change floors, either getting the chance to live higher up, closer to “Floor 0” where the food originates, or lower down. That’s it. That’s the entire set up of the film.

The platform showcases one of the best spreads in town… if you’re fortunate enough to score a nibble!

Obviously the story revolves around the problems this platform of food presents. It’s summarized perfectly right from the beginning: “There are three types of person. Those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall”. The Platform is beautifully structured because the audience gets to witness all the options, with each act essentially demonstrating each one.

Our protagonist is a pacifist man by the name of Goreng, whose journey allows him to interact with three very different roommates. First up he is taught the ropes (and subsequent cruelties) of “the hole’s” system by Trimagasi (fantastically portrayed by Zorian Eguileor); a man morally corrupted by the harsh realities of this vertical society, who is keen to perpetuate the structure’s inherent problems if it means his survival. Second is Imoguiri, a woman who is both naïve but also part of the administration, where despite working for the institution, appears to know little to nothing about what actually happens on each floor. Lastly there’s the idealistic Baharat, who will appeal most to Christian viewers due to his religious convictions and worldview.

The Platform belongs to that weird subset of films that have no interest in generating entertainment through sugar-coated, saccharine-laden plots filled with happy endings. It doesn’t exist to make viewers feel good but rather serves as more of a public service announcement about the problems plaguing our society. It presents a seemingly simple problem, though it’s deeply fascinating, providing food for thought through the complications of starvation.

Suffice to say, if you’re looking for a piece of escapism, look elsewhere. Many have commented upon The Platform’s freakishly timed release, which may have contributed to its success. When the titular platform descends each day from Floor 0, those living on the higher levels gorge themselves and revel in their greed, literally leaving nothing to eat for those below. Hunger and access to resources are a universal need, so “the Hole’s” inherent supply issues will always be relevant. Yet due to the current food hoarding problems occurring at supermarkets due to COVID-19, the act of those with privilege seizing everything to excess with little regard for their fellow man makes everything in this movie hit home just that little bit more. As absurd as this skyscraper society might be, we’ve all sadly glimpsed at the reality of the film’s dark portrayal of human nature.

With its allegorical characters, it’s safe to say that the premise of The Platform is meant to be taken as an analogy, though what exactly it’s trying to impart is up for debate. Some go as far to say that the film is about food hoarding, though while it’s a very apt comparison, we do need to remember that this movie was in development long before people were getting into fistfights over bags of rice.

While this Spanish movie might be alluding to something in the country’s past, the plot’s focus around this fictional vertical society with its blatantly failing trickle-down economics will be recognizable to audiences worldwide. Is the film commenting upon the harsh realities of class systems and capitalism? If so, it is a striking analogy although it is not perfect due to the fact that the inmates’ status is altered randomly on a monthly basis; there is a certain liquidity in their privilege. (Although this rule does help to progress the narrative and shift the protagonist’s viewpoint). Or is the film actually critiquing socialism and the necessity of violence? Is peace able to be achieved without the presence of a threat? Does punishment go hand in hand with the messages of hope contained within religion? Do we see a Christ figure? Was the system never fair in the first place? How does the next generation factor in? Is the film about all these things, or is it about something else entirely? And (the biggest question of all) what was the real outcome of that panna cotta?

Opposite to what one might think, this thematic murkiness works to the movie’s strength and not its weakness. Despite the blatant absurdity of the situation which screams at audiences to keep their eyes peeled for symbolism, The Platform does still manage to maintain an air of mystery; a factor that is necessary for later analysis and fervent discussion.

Movies need to be careful not be too blunt and “on the nose” with the message they’re trying to convey. At best it’s patronizing, while at its worst it turns into a propaganda piece. 2017’s The Circle, for example, was the former. The film presented a world with painfully obvious issues surrounding the topic of privacy, whereby no character reasonably objected or provided a substantial voice of reason. When the audience’s viewpoint isn’t thoroughly tested within a political fantasy, a sense of detachment occurs; it all becomes too unrealistic and is therefore disengaging as it would never occur in real life, whilst the film only ends up offering a shallow version of an otherwise robust moral message.

The Platform protects itself by exploring every main viewpoint, along with having Goreng as an everyman figure. We may not agree with how every character views their situation, but their position is understandable and is therefore relatable. Each of them are flawed, yet they all offer something of value, which is adopted by Goreng as he grows for better and worse during his time in “the Hole”. Goreng’s responses are natural, and so too are the harsh lessons he must learn to survive, which makes it all the more heartbreaking as we watch on as he becomes more corrupted and cynical due his given circumstances; a journey the audience also endures.

While the film is overt in its intention to be an allegory, it is subtle in its final conclusion. Audiences will mull and chew on the surprising amount of fat on this lean narrative for days, though this film is clever enough to know that the issues it raises cannot be neatly solved. Yes, it commits the sin of pointing out problems but offering no real solution, leaving some audiences frustrated by an ending that’s open to interpretation. After such a high amount of tension throughout the runtime, the finale might feel rather underwhelming, particularly if one isn’t willing to dig deeper than the story’s surface level. For others, this movie will linger and refreshingly rot in the mind, with images that aren’t easy to forget coupled with a premise that’s too simple yet complex to ignore.

The Platform recognizes its own humility; it’s a piece of art that can highlight important issues that need to be addressed, thereby helping the situation, even if these problems are bigger than any movie can ever sensibly tackle. In this way, it sits alongside other greats like Animal Farm and Blade Runner, and if it weren’t for a few extreme spurts of violence and a preoccupation with cannibalism, this is the type of film that would be studied in high schools for decades for its moral questioning of ethics. Out of all the movies released this year so far, The Platform is the one that will haunt you the most, never to be unseen, and forever being a recollection whenever someone mentions trickle-down economics… or a panna cotta.

Positives

+ Brilliant performances + Engaging characters + Tantalizing scenario + A wonderful analogy that will leave you pondering for days + Nicely structured plot despite its enclosed setting + One of the most memorable films of the year

Negatives

- A touch too violent to become a future high school study text - Underwhelming ending for those not interested in engaging with the film's symbolism - Certain narrative choices weaken the strength of the analogy for one of the film's main interpretations - Not for those wanting escapism or light entertainment

The Bottom Line

Both absurd and realistic, The Platform’s illustration of food shortages to point out the problems in wider society might hit a little too close to home. Yet this could also be a very timely message. Blaring with symbolism, it manages to smartly dodge being too on the nose thanks to great characters, acting, and enough mystique to encourage further discussion.

 

9

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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