Imagine: you awake in a cold, concrete prison cell. There are no windows, no doors, one cellmate, and a big, square hole in the center of the floor. Should you peek down into it, you’d see a cell below the same as yours. And beneath that lie so many more that you can’t estimate their number. Should you look up, you’ll see the same. This hole holds the place for the platform, a large concrete table that descends daily packed with delectable delicacies. But what you get — if anything — depends on how far down you are in this merciless food chain. Those at the top feast on red wine, succulent meats, and delicate desserts. Those below will eat their scraps, on and on until all that’s left are empty plates and hungry bellies, pushing the bottom dwellers to inhumane extremes to survive. This is the chilling premise of The Platform, a riveting Midnight Madness movie with a sharp political commentary at its core.
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia makes his directorial debut with this Spanish dystopian-thriller that centers on Goreng (Iván Massagué), a new inmate who must learn the ropes to survive. An academic, who volunteered for this grim circumstance to earn his degree, Goreng looks at everything around him with earnest curiosity and a sharp logic that will do him little good in a place overrun by impulse. The prisoners are each allowed one item to bring with them into their cell. Some choose a pet, a rope, or a weapon. Goreng chose a book, which confounds and amuses his squirrelly cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), who picked an as-seen-on-TV knife that never dulls. Excitable and spiteful, Trimagasi will be Goreng’s reluctant guide into the rules of the Pit. And Goreng will be the audience conduit, learning its ways and horrors with mounting shock.
Over the course of his sentence, Goreng will be re-assigned monthly up and down the Pit’s layers, seeing both feast and famine. He will encounter a variety of inmates, one who dreams of escape, one doggedly focused on self-preservation, one on a mad quest, and one hell-bent on pushing her peers into “spontaneous solidarity.” Before long, Goreng realizes that the food at the top could be enough for all if everyone only took what they needed. But this cruel means of distribution turns a could-be community into savages who scrounge for all they can eat and gleefully befoul what they can’t to spite those beneath them.
The script by David Desola and Pedro Rivero sets up a crisp and horrifying condemnation of any capitalist system that insists its luxuries will trickle down. There are no firm rules on why prisoners or moved higher or lower, and yet those at the upper tiers always feel they have earned their place. More than that, those at every tier are so deeply terrified by losing what they have that they consider all below as enemies biting at their heels, and so deserving of a kicking. This savage satire moves beyond the “eat the rich” theme that’s been cropping up in some of this year’s most buzzed-about films. By exploring why even the have-nots may cannibalize each other, The Platformskewers any authority that would arrange a system that willfully demolishes community. Its message is hard-hitting and haunting, bolstered by the stomach-turning tension of its plot.
Gaztelu-Urrutia has made a nerve-scraping machine out of The Platform. He unlocks layer after layer of this brutal world with shrewd pacing. Each time you might think you have it figured out, a new and unnerving corner is introduced, be it a rude awakening, a literally shitty response, or glaring stranger perched at the platform’s center. Each time, another hope is dashed, sinking us deeper and deeper into the Pit’s depravity. But amid the darkness, The Platform offers a fragile thread of hope in Goreng’s preserved humanity. This academic snatched from his ivory tower and pitched into a pit will face indignities, squalor, and vicious violence. All of its effects streak vividly across the striking face and deep, soulful eyes of Massagué, but so too will the elation at an ardent belief in change. This leads to a climax that is exhilarating both in its emotional catharsis and its outbursts of revolutionary action.
Ultimately, The Platform is stupendous on two levels. As a B-movie thriller packed with graphic violence, dystopian world-building, and merciless tension, it’s a twisted crowdpleaser that’s sure to leave your knees weak and breath ragged. As a political satire punching up at cold capitalism, it’s a slyly sophisticated and heart-wrenching exploration of the ingrained evils of modern society that’s sure to leave your stomach flipping and your mind spinning. In short, The Platform will chew you up and spit you out, yet leave you hungry for more.
The Platform made its World Premiere at TIFF ahead of its US Premiere at Fantastic Fest.
Kristy Puchko is Film Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko is a regular contributor on the Slashfilmcast, and teaches a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com