Streaming services have been great lately for satisfying my appetite for cinema in these times. I’ve been visiting a lot of classic films from great filmmakers and hidden gems that I never would have discovered without this much time on my hands. Cue my surprise when I saw this new release from Netflix, a Spanish sci-fi thriller with a sharp social edge. The Platform, which won the People’s Choice Award in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, had made its way to streaming already.
The film is set inside of a prison-like tower with hundreds of ascending and descending levels. In the center of the tower, a platform descends from the top to the bottom each day, stacked with a gigantic banquet for the prisoners to feed on. Those on the top get the food fresh, and the food becomes more scarce as the platform descends. It’s a simple idea with all sorts of tiny details that are too numerous to list here. Our protagonist Goreng (Ivan Massague) wakes up in level 48, explaining to his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor, in a sinister performance) that he chose to stay in the tower to earn a diploma. His cellmate does not have such an innocent motivation, having been sentenced to the tower for manslaughter. That’s another weird thing about this prison, you can choose to go there for some arbitrary societal/self-benefit in exchange, and you’re allowed to bring any item of your choice with you. This can include a copy of Don Quixote, rope to attempt escape, a knife for… reasons; even your dog or child can be brought in with you.
The concept of The Platform is an intriguing one, even if the central idea of the tower is a bit strange. The overall plot of the film feels like a blend of Cube and Parasite, with Goreng eventually joining forces with another inmate to climb to the top of the tower, attempting to send a message to the people watching over all of them. The problem is that the story is incredibly muddled, ending up feeling like a botched attempt at Snowpiercer. Goreng doesn’t start the movie with much motivation, only to end up the figurehead of a revolution against a system that the audience isn’t really informed about. We’re never given the details as to why the tower exists and we never see anyone outside of it, so even then it’s a weak motivation when we don’t know what Goreng is up against. Even by the end, we’re no closer to reasoning why we should be on his side other than the fact that he is the protagonist. It could have had something interesting to say about self-inflation, or just been a nice film about class warfare. However, Goreng’s plan is incredibly simple and doesn’t leave the audience with much to discover about the world he exists in.
Putting the story qualms aside, The Platform is very well put together. Massague and Eguileor (especially Eguileor) are great alongside one another, having tense and funny exchanges throughout the film. The cinematography does a lot with very little, using a lot of different angles and editing choices to show the small cells in different ways throughout. There’s a diverse cast of minor characters that all stand out, from a mother who rides the platform to look for her child to a woman who used to work in the tower that puts herself inside to see what it’s really like.
While I would say the first half of The Platform is intriguing and fast paced, the second half really starts to lose me. Goreng begins his plan to escape and the film becomes exceedingly brutal, with him and his partner having to fend off any prisoners unwilling to cooperate with his attempts to send a message above and create a ration system for those at the lowest levels. It actually kind of reminded me of Parasite, with a quick jump to brutal violence in an attempt to catch the audience off-guard. Like Parasite, it doesn’t really work.
With the growing threat of the coronavirus, film lovers are wondering where a lot of new releases are going to go. With some studios releasing their films for large rental prices, it’s a fine choice for those who didn’t get to see the latest releases in theaters before all of this began. I hope that a lot of festival films can make their way to streaming, especially with a lot of festivals being cancelled. In any case, I hope better films can find their way to release than The Platform.