Brutality is pretty easy to find in cinema. You can stroll into any theater to see big budget productions with b-movie aspirations like The Purge series or a Tarantino flick, or you could take your pick of acclaimed arthouse provocateurs like Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noé. Or, if you want some really nasty stuff, you can waltz over to any festival’s nighttime genre series, which are usually filled with irreverent movies that aren’t concerned with impressing anyone except that uniquely fervent audience.
The Platform is mostly in the latter category, a grotesque movie that premiered in TIFF’s Midnight Madness program and took home the category’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award. It did its job in that regard, but now it’s out in the wider world thanks to Netflix, trying to impress audiences that want a bit more than a rowdy thrill.
What helps the transition is its high-concept setting: a vertical prison where a platform of food is lowered from cell to cell once a day, with the upper levels gorging and the lower levels starving. Anyone can predict that madness would ensue, and most would be able to pick up on its metaphor without further explanation. It’s intriguing enough to reel in viewers who aren’t there just for its depravity, but unfortunately it fumbles developing anything further, falling back on nastiness instead of intelligence.
That Pitch Works
The simple brilliance of the setup writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero cooked up is undeniable, fashioning a horror show out of capitalism and, in particular, trickle-down economics. I mean, if you overwhelm the rich with nice things, they’ll surely let some of it fall to the less fortunate, right? People aren’t just selfish beings concerned with their own comfort and survival…
Any grand notions of humanity are dashed in the film’s opening scenes, where we meet our hero/Jesus figure (there’s a lot of Christian symbolism here) as he wakes up in The Hole. Goreng (Ivan Massagué) volunteered to come here in exchange for a degree, but the reality his weary roommate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), lays out isn’t what he imagined. He resists the system at first, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before he joins in, as Trimagasi’s amused prodding confirms.
It’s a chilling scenario, and having it presented with such nonchalance only makes your ears perk up more. There’s a point of view to go with its setting, a cold, biting one that could go in all sorts of directions. In other words, it’s a thrilling start.
A Film Is Not A Setup
It’s everything after this that disappoints, as the film takes obvious turn after obvious turn that fails to take advantage of the multitudes of horror at its disposal. Goreng ends up moving levels, a reset that occurs every month that reassigns the tenets (prisoners?) at random. The order with which he moves up and down and the developments this leads to could be written by a teenager, as could the piss and poop jokes that litter the film. Where care was taken with the setup, laziness, or at least disinterest in implications, took over for the remainder, and the boredom of always knowing the next step sets in.
The continuous disappointment of The Platform calls to mind the inauspicious start of another socially-conscious horror series, The Purge. Its first film stayed within a single house, hinting at the mayhem of a night without laws while barely giving us a taste. Sure, there’s plenty of tension, and once the blood starts flowing it splatters, but it teased us with something much more horrifying than a single home invasion.
There’s a similar problem with Goreng in The Platform. He’s a remarkably gentle person for the environment, which inhibits his engagement with the chaos. It cuts the film at its knees to follow a passive observer, and with hints of what’s happening on other levels with other people, it’s hard not to feel shortchanged by what morsels you get.
The Purge righted this error and opened up in its second entry, spawning a franchise that is as interesting as it is deliciously fun. I have no clue if there’s any further plans for the world The Platform hints at, but I wouldn’t mind letting it continue, if only to get everything I was promised.
Everyone Else Is Trying
Even as the plot plods towards boredom, The Platform never totally loses its way. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia made sure the film was carried out with care, from Massagué giving Goreng a quiet if wavering resolve to the production team somehow making this repetitive set visually interesting.
Think about it: the whole movie takes place on bare platforms. Concrete is pretty much all you look at, and yet each level has a different texture to match the suffering that’s gone on (sometimes there’s literal human texturing). The team is careful not to choreograph and shoot the numerous standoffs in the same way, making each encounter exciting even without deeper meaning. To not repeat yourself when working under such constraints is a feat, and that attention is a valiant effort to mask the film’s shortcomings. But alas, as soon as the thrills subside, the flatness of the plot comes back to the fore, with nowhere to hide.
Conclusion: The Platform
The Platform’s inventive premise and strong production design makes it easy to imagine rambunctious late-night festival crowds hooting and hollering, but home viewing, especially if you are by yourself, drains much of this luster. Instead of building on its ideas it simply hits the same ones over and over again, splattering plenty of blood but leaving little that stains your mind.
What did you think of The Platform? Did you find it lacking or was the blood enough for you? Let us know in the comments!
The Platform is now available on Netflix.
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