By Tyler Jacobs (Rochester, New York)
I have a tendency to pull away from foreign films, not for lack of quality, but for my loss of immersion when a movie’s audio is overdubbed. The Platform, a 2019 social science and fiction horror, by director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, quickly proved to be an exception to my rule. If you came here for my recommendation, the simple answer is – watch the film.
To be honest, I don’t actually know what I was expecting when I began this movie. Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic forced me to finish nearly everything else on Netflix. Or perhaps I was forced to watch a foreign produced movie for a school film project. Either way, I found myself turning on the TV, listening to the double-syllable-deep-based Netflix opening chime and pressing play.
The movie’s main character, Goreng, cast by Iván Massagué is sentenced to a prison called, “The Pit.” Serving 12 months in exchange for a college diploma Goreng wakes up in a small concrete room, the number 48 on the wall, and a hole in the middle of the floor and ceiling. Inmates, he learns, are reassigned to a different floor in the prison every 30 days. The rules are simple, food is delivered once a day on a moving concrete slab, beginning on the first floor and ending on the last. The only food left for the next floor is whatever the above left behind. If anyone tries to keep food the climate control in the cell changes – eventually killing the inmates.
It doesn’t take a mad man to foresee the violence and degradation of the inmate’s moralities, firmly earning this movie its place in the horror genre. However, even I was not prepared for the twisted rollercoaster that was the plotline of this film. It began with a fascination the movie gives to the chiefs who prepare the daily meal. Extreme pride and care is given to meals, not unlike the quality found in a 5 star resort. This stark contrast gives way to the violent indecencies that will occur every day over it.
After coming to terms with his situation, Goreng manages to overcome his fear of others touching his food – quickly learning not to cause problems, for fear of someone urinating all over the delicacies of the day. Without spoiling the plot of the film, the road from here takes a rollercoaster of betrayal, stopping briefly at cannibalism and a detour through insanity. Goreng’s character shows the viewer what they might be capable of just to survive. Now would be a good time to mention, if you have small children around, I recommend you keep them far away from this movie.
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia does a fantastic job at moving the plot forward, however. Instead of focusing on the pure brutality of Goreng’s condition there is actually a story, a purpose to all of this mayhem. For me it was we, as a society, will refuse to work together even if it brings an end to us all. Unlike me; however, my girlfriend found food to be a stand-in for money and each floor representing a different class of wealth. This, to her, represented the failure of our modern trickle-down economic theories.
Being the owner of a cinematography company myself, I must admire the visual design chosen to tell this story. Cool color tones, high contrast and the bleach bypass look well known in dramatic Netflix movies is ever present. Some may find this choice too harsh; however, coupled with a compelling story, disturbingly realistic special effects and lighting where it matters most – I suspect even those without LG TV’s perfect black levels will find it forgivable.
Until this point I have had nothing bad to say about the film, but I would be lying if I said it was perfect. I did find myself cringing at the overtly racist language in the film, particularly in regards to Asian women. I understand it was intentional, but it’s done in such a way that seems unnecessary to the plot. I am also extremely disappointed by the ending, leaving me asking, “What happens next?” I prefer a movie with closure and; unfortunately, we will never get that. It is quite obvious this is a one-off production.
Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia did a fantastic job with this movie, his first feature film since beginning his career in 2003 as predominantly the director of TV commercials. This speaks volumes about Gaztelu-Urrutia, Netflix is not known to be welcoming to new directors – requiring all prospective clients seeking its platform use specific camera systems. Publishers are then only allowed to use Netflix approved distributors. With this in mind I strongly recommend watching The Platform and keeping an eye on anything produced by Gaztelu-Urrutia in the future.