Review: The Platform (El Hoyo) – Fantastic Fest 2019

Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform concerns not so much the platform as it does the pit, a pit descending hundreds of stories down through a concrete prison established by “The Administration.” Two people are housed on each level of this enclosure. Some are volunteers, others are criminals, but they are all prisoners. Each day, a platform descends housing a bounty of food and drink. The people at the top can eat as much as they want; those down below get what’s left, if anything. And every month the prisoners switch floors.

Goren (Ivan Massague) wakes on his floor—47, not too shabby all things considered—not knowing what he has got himself into. He doesn’t understand the psychological and physical strife that this hierarchical structure will impose on him over the next six months (at least at the end of it the state will award him an honorary and accredited degree!).

The Platform has a recognizable science fiction conceit. How can costs be kept low but stakes remain high? Enclose an ensemble of characters within a claustrophobic puzzle box trap marked by its lack of set decoration. There are shades of many films, perhaps most well-known among them being Cube. But where most films of this nature are high concept and gimmicky, The Platform uses its dystopian construction to a narrative end.

The very structure of the prison is the crux of the narrative purpose. Not merely to illustrate a nightmarish place where people’s psyches devolve in animalistic ways, but to illustrate (in an albeit simplistic manner) the ways by which a class structure degrades an entire society from the bottom up. The result is tense and compelling (again, albeit overt in its subtext).

The Platform is a film about problem solving, and this could be viewed as a detriment. Each narrative beat is accompanied by a new hurdle to cross, and this can be repetitive. But the way that this repetition goes about revealing the inner mechanisms of The Pit makes it more satisfying.

The main issue with films of this type is that the high concept premise sets the expectations for resolution too high. The environment is in itself a puzzle, so the entire film hinges on the conclusion to the mystery. Rarely do these conclusions stack up against the pursuit, and the case is no different in The Platform. While there is a satisfying end to character arcs, the narrative ends in a place of almost divine intervention that is subpar.

Faith, to be fair, is a prevailing theme throughout the film, and it is armed in intriguing ways. From a character standpoint, faith is a crucial factor. But there is convenience in the way by which providence (or coincidence) leads to the resolution.

The Platform is an entertaining, grisly genre picture, but it doesn’t fully escape from its own puzzle box. The superficiality of its themes and its narrative convenience ultimately outweigh its personal story. What can be said in support of the film, though, is how it stacks up with its genre competition. Say what you want about Cube, it has a lot less on its mind than this film.

 

The Platform: B

 

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

 

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