Spanish horror meets ‘Black Mirror’ (contains spoilers!)
Last night, my best friend and I decided to watch the dystopian Spanish thriller ‘The Platform’, which debuted at the end of last year. Separated thanks to coronavirus, we fired up our Netflix accounts and primed the film to start at the same time, phones at the ready to share any thoughts we had along the way. You may think this is a reductive way of watching a film, but honestly, I appreciated having someone to share it with. This is one of those films that forces you to keep thinking about it, long after the end of its running time.
‘3, 2, 1…play!’ With Netflix synchronised, we were plunged into a terrifying world from which we would not be able to escape for the next 94 minutes. At least we had guaranteed freedom – for the film’s characters, things were far less certain.
The protagonist, Goreng, awakes in a bleak, grey cell within an enormous tower, his only source of food provided by a large slab – the platform – which periodically descends through each level. The brief glimpses we get of each meal being prepared suggests there’s no shortage of luxury – however, each cellmate can only eat what has been left on the platform by those who reside above. As intriguing as this premise is, it isn’t even the best part: each pair of cellmates is randomly reassigned to a new cell each month. One month, you could be gorging on wine and cake on Level 8 – the next, murdering your cellmate for survival on Level 200. Tempted to keep some food back? Instant punishment: the temperature in each cell changes dramatically if its inmates steal food, boiling or freezing the inhabitants to excruciating degrees.
This idea is so captivating because it exposes selfishness and greed in a hopelessly bleak, claustrophobic environment. What intrigued me the most was how each person’s attitude changed depending on the level they woke up in, and the disdain that those above had for those below. The worst example of this comes towards the end of the film, when Goreng finds himself on Level 6 – but, in order to maintain its shock value, I’ll leave that scene unspoiled for now.
The devil in the detail
The film’s director, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, has an impeccable eye for detail which made the world of ‘The Platform’ far more convincing. Each cellmate gets to choose one object to bring into the tower with them, and these choices were really revealing. Trimagasi, Goreng’s first cellmate who is serving a sentence for manslaughter, takes a self-sharpening knife, which he bought due to very powerful advertising. Yet Goreng, who comes into the tower voluntarily in exchange for his diploma, chooses to bring a copy of ‘Don Quixote’ by Cervantes. A majorly significant piece of Spanish literature, this book is particularly relevant because it focuses on the theme of the individual being right within a morally corrupt society (a theme which the film is ultimately obsessed by). In addition, Don Quixote is a man who denies reality in preference of his own fantasy, viewed by many as insane. For Goreng, then, his book is his own way of denying the horrible reality he finds himself in – it also foreshadows the dark places that the tower will take his mind to.
As well as the use of symbolic props, the sound and lighting in this film are incredible. The red and green lights, which signal when the platform of food enters and leaves each level, are brutally bright and always accompanied by a grinding noise. Red light is also used for moments of hallucination and violence in the film, which obviously heightens the intensity. Most of all, though, I really enjoyed the jarring contrast between disgusting montages of people shoving food into their mouths and the tinny, understated music playing over it.
The horror of hopelessness
In its depiction of characters trapped in a deadly environment with seemingly no chance of escape, ‘The Platform’ is very similar to the 1997 science-fiction horror ‘Cube’. More recently, this film has obvious comparisons with ‘Parasite’, both focusing on the consequences of a class system society where greedy desires fuel the fight for survival. If I had to recommend one over the other, I’d easily say ‘Parasite’: that film is far more eerie, and it does it all without the need for a dystopian setting.
That said, ‘The Platform’ definitely deserves its place amongst other thought-provoking films. You’ll see many other reviews saying that it’s incredibly topical and pertinent to our current situation, and honestly, it’s impossible to disagree with that. Greedy people taking food for themselves and ignoring the needs of the more vulnerable? It’s hard to ignore the parallels. Of course, it’s a bleak way of looking at things, but sometimes horror is the most effective way to bring the world’s problems to the surface.
I’ve included a few spoilers in this review, but if what you’ve read intrigues you, I highly encourage you to watch how this film plays out. ‘The Platform’ may not make you hide behind the sofa, but it’ll certainly leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Featured Image Copyright Vox.