Idealistic Goreng (Ivan Massagué) wakes up in a cell with only an older man (Zorion Eguileor) and holes in the floor and ceiling for company. Goreng soon learns there are hundreds of prisoners in cells above and below, all waiting on the same platform to bring them food – or whatever is left after the others eat their fill. Welcome to The Pit.
Netflix’s newest release was first screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, winning the event’s Midnight Madness Award. It was overshadowed by Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit in press coverage though, despite both dealing with difficult-to-stomach topics. However, The Platform’s brutal anti-capitalist messaging makes the Nazi comedy’s political satire look like a tame school media project.
The Platform is all political commentary on class divisions. The Pit is both prison and social experiment to the film’s ‘government’, the Administration. It provides enough food for everyone within to survive, but the inmates don’t know this. This entrenches a system in which those on the upper levels feast while those lower down starve, effectively outlining how greed corrupts humanity. This anti-capitalist message is entrenched as cellmates are randomly re-assigned floors monthly. Those ‘at the top’ are never really in control, but the illusion is enough to breed discord between the levels. In a final thematic twist, The Pit houses both prisoners being punished for crimes and ‘normal’ citizens choosing to stay there for personal gain. It’s as if the Administration is daring people to face the worst side of their nature and come out unscathed, offering a philosophical message that director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia delivers near-note perfect.
However, in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic The Platform takes on yet another meaning. Those viewing the horror now will likely identify with the claustrophobic paranoia wracking those in The Pit. Gathering and consuming food is the main goal for those trapped, making it easier to nurture distrust against others who may take your ‘share’. News stories of fights in supermarkets over toilet paper show we are closer to the barbarism of The Platform than we’d like to think.
Packing these themes into a taut script could have been tough, but the film’s parable-based narrative made it seem easy. The screenplay, by David Desola and Pedro Rivero, makes the survival story a vehicle for its message, rather than the main attraction. This simplifies The Platform and stops it from straying into campy sci-fi. Action scenes build tension well and character relationships are believable. Early scenes lean heavily on dialogue exposition, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise cleverly understated narrative.
Gaztelu-Urrutia makes his directorial debut with this film. You’d never guess it with the subtle and sophisticated camerawork that puts the focus on The Platform’s political musings. Gaztelu-Urrutia does lean into classic horror film techniques to disorient the viewer in parts – The Pit’s vertigo-inducing nature is perfect for world-tilting camera shots, while the film’s gore is realistic and not overdone.
The acting is also stellar. Massagué is a likeable protagonist, while Alexandra Masangkay is menacing as a mother searching for her child. But Eguileor, as Goreng’s cranky cellmate Trimagasi, is the star. He fully embodies the system; he has no regards for others and will do anything to survive, yet shows moments of tenderness even at his most wickedly inhumane. It’s a performance that unselfishly serves the plot.
The Platform is a triumph. Crafty without being too heavy handed, the Spanish horror parable deserves your attention – even if it hits uncomfortably close to home right now.
The film’s brutal messages come in layers, making it the ideal dystopian claustro-fest for the world right now. A must see for horror fans. 8/10.
The Platform is streaming on Netflix now!