In The Platform (El Hoyo, in the original Spanish) a man wakes up in a place that isn’t familiar, a place full of dread and fear located in a world that seems to operate by different rules.
He may not know where he is, but we know where we are: in one of those high concept “escape room” horror movies, the best of which still remains Vincenzo Natali’s sleek Cube, from 1997, which almost single-handedly kick-started the genre.
Almost. Because the real inspiration for these things is Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 existentialist play Huis Clos, which follows the discussions of three characters locked together in the same room in the afterlife for all eternity. It memorably gave us the phrase “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” or “Hell is other people.”
Goreng (Ivan Massagué) might be in hell – The Platform certainly drops hints in that direction – but as far as he’s concerned he’s in some kind of high-security vertical prison with two people per cell, one cell per floor. What connects each floor, going up and down for hundreds of levels, is a big platform which lowers into each cell each day bringing food. It starts at level one, at the top of the building, loaded with sumptuous delicacies – occasional shots of the kitchens where all this food is prepared to the very highest standards convince us of this – but it isn’t replenished as it drops down the levels. If you’re up the top, you eat, and eat well. If you’re further down, the good stuff will have gone and what’s left will be half chewed, spat on… and worse.
There is enough food for everybody, if only those at the top took only what they needed, Goreng reasons, and will continue to reason, though the identity of his cellmate changes, from the cynical Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) to the highly idealistic Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan) and the all-action Baharat (Emilio Buale). Goreng’s level changes, too. He starts out on level 48 (not bad, in terms of food), then wakes one morning to find he’s on level 171 and Trimagasi has tied him to the bed, the better to eat him when the lack of food drives him to cannibalism, common in this place.
The metaphor for wider society is “obvio”, to use a Spanish word favoured by Trimagasi, and could have been lifted from JG Ballard’s High Rise, but the real attraction of The Platform is its pitiless logic and its forward dynamic. Absurdist, existentialist, Waiting for Godot-like, it’s all those things too.
There’s also the way it spikes its well conjured but familiar “escape room” set-up with pungent details – a glowing cigarette butt, the tip of a ballpoint pen completing a form. Or the recurring but fleeting presence of a wild woman called Miharu (Alexandra Masangakay), a blood-covered beauty as likely to eat you as look at you. Even the names of many characters add a shot of spice, and seem to be Indonesian (Goreng, as in the dish nasi goreng, means “fried” – make of that what you will).
Is it a coincidence that with his pointy beard and aquiline nose Ivan Massagué resembles the idealist (but possibly deranged) Don Quixote and that he has that novel with him in this Vertical Self-Management Center, as this prison is called? Possibly. David Desola and Pedro Rivero’s screenplay has allusions and half-references enough to keep the chatrooms speculating for decades.
None of that would matter if this movie didn’t work in terms of concept and execution but it does. It’s the classic good story well told, the feature debut by Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. I say Spanish but there are so many Basques in this movie – so many Z’s and X’s and K’s in the names of cast and crew – that Euskaldunak (the Basque word for Basque) might be a better slot to put it in. For the avoidance of doubt, it’s in Spanish, though with the usual wide choice of subtitling and language you get with Netflix, you can watch it any way you like.
Cranked out on god knows how small a budget, used incredibly effectively, it’s a dark and grungey film – shit and blood, blood and shit – and that’s just the people. Is there a relationship in here that isn’t transactional? More to the point, does Goreng manage to get out?
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© Steve Morrissey 2021