The Platform review – unsubtle but gripping dystopian thriller

A man must survive a nighmarish prison hinged on a shared food system in Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia's timely vision of the future

Sitting somewhere between 90s thriller Cube and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiecer and occupied with themes of capitalism and isolation, Spanish sci-fi-horror The Platform couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Set at an undetermined but vividly nightmarish point in the future, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s dark, cynical metaphor of a film clings to an undeniably intriguing premise, unfolding with the air of a cinematic social experiment. It is depressing stuff, but oddly compelling.

There has always been a deep fascination with movies featuring humans being pitted against one another in bloodthirsty games, of course, from the very good (Battle Royale) to the very bad (The Hunt). In its attempts to provide genre thrills and say something meaningful at the same time, The Platform falls somewhere in-between, quality-wise. But whilst it’s satisfying to see a film making the most of its premise, Gaztelu-Urrutia’s heavy-handed approach and thinly-realised characters means very little lingers in the memory.

The story begins when Goreng (Iván Massagué) wakes up on the 47th floor of a seemingly endless vertical prison – an inmate by choice, vying for a better life. Right down the middle a “pit” connects all the rooms, where every day a vast table filled with delicious food descends from the very top, and the prisoners – two per floor – are invited to eat as much as they like within a small time frame, before the table moves downwards to the next cell. There’s enough food for everyone, should each prisoner ration their intake. But of course they don’t, and therein lies the problem.

Essentially this is a “one room” film, and writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero wring a good amount of tension from their tightly contained setting. It’s gloomy, but there’s fun to be had – firstly in the establishing of daily life in “the Pit,” as Goreng gets to know his grouchy veteran of a cell mate, played by Zorion Eguileor, and later, after he’s drugged and moved to different floors and paired with other prisoners. It’s an unusually gory watch, which helps to drive home the brutal reality of this dog-eat-dog world, intended to mirror our own. You might call it horror, but that word usually implies a supernatural element at play. You watch this wondering whether we really are so far off.

The Platform does avoid what is arguably the most enjoyable part of any film like this: the hero breaking free and navigating the behind-the-scenes areas, confronting those responsible (see Cabin in the Woods, or the more recent Escape Room). Perhaps it’s too allegorical a film for that; and indeed the climax does get bogged down in repeated conversations about “the Message” and – as Goreng begins to see visions of those who have perished along the way – too many hallucinations. The ending feels like the writers couldn’t quite figure out where to go, culminating on an unsatisfying, ambiguous note. But as a diverting thriller with an appealing 90s aesthetic and timely message, The Platform just about rises to the occasion.

The Platform is now available on Netflix.

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