“Though the movie delivers many effective and startling moments against the backdrop of self-evident but brilliantly vivid messaging, there’s so much going on throughout that it’s all the more disappointing when the film can’t really piece it all together in the end.”
by Ken Bakely
The main point of Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform is obvious: there can be enough for everyone in theory, but not in practice. Set in a strange, vertical prison, in which each floor holds one cell, each cell holds two prisoners, and hundreds of these cells are stacked on top of each other with a giant hole in the middle, the main feature of this setting is a large platform of food which magically gravitates downward through said opening. You can eat whatever you want from it when it reaches your floor, but as the platform descends into the lower levels, there’s an imbalance. Though it is said that there’s exactly enough food for everyone to have enough, those at the top will invariably take more than they need, leaving those in the lower floors with scraps, at best. You’re not stuck on one floor forever: each month, you’re randomly reassigned, but that randomness means there’s no meritocracy here, no assurance that good deeds will ever let you get ahead. Goreng (Iván Massagué) is a new inmate at the prison, who learns these truths about the platform’s rules from his weathered cellmate, Trimigasi (Zorion Eguileor). The film follows a journey up and down the levels, as the violent and hellish infrastructure of the prison reveals itself in various ways, and Goreng desperately searches for a way to reverse the inequality at hand, despite the adversarial rejection and violence he faces from his fellow prisoners as he attempts to reform this world.
The concept is fascinatingly pointed, the execution is dutifully gnarly, and the technical and creative talent behind the film can hardly be faulted. But The Platform struggles to reconcile its capacity and capabilities for palpable results. The problem seems to come somewhere along the lines of how it ratchets the story up to increasingly tense heights. Looking to expand the stakes and the scale of the would-be rebellion, Gaztelu-Urrutia, working from a script by David Desola and Pedro Rivero, seeks to show how both those at the top and those at the bottom have been so led to believe that this system is the only one that works, that they would brutally push back against anyone who tried to tell them otherwise. It’s a meaningful and stark observation, and ensures that no answers to this daunting problem will be easily sought, but at the same time, the film risks feeling caught up in its own chaos, always performing its current task very well, but doing so at something of a net loss to all the other tasks it has taken on. Perhaps this shortcoming is best demonstrated by contrasting it with a better application of its ability to multitask: the movie seeks a garish and uneasy tone, with much happening for the sake of shock value, and each incident of physical contact between people, in any context, is performed in an inherently troubled context, with a great uncertainty hanging over everything. Besides the factor of simply putting the audience on edge, and keeping them queasy, it also helps drive home that sense of the unknowable; the factor that comes from living in a deeply unfair system but knowing no future beyond it.
In cases like that, the effect is pronounced – and it works, as Gaztelu-Urrutia seeks to operate on multiple planes. It’s an example of what The Platform does best, in balancing its various abilities and interests in trying to create a whole that’s cohesive and engaging. But as the film goes on and builds upwards, problems emerge with the script’s most ambitious arcs and components, and while everything on an individual level works, it doesn’t quite succeed in the collective sense, with the harmonious chaos of the movie’s best accomplishments – combining its capable genre thrills and clear-eyed commentary as one and the same – not representative of the movie’s efforts in total. What the film builds to is admirable in many senses, and it would certainly be something if more movies, even if they don’t quite come together in the end, were as singularly propulsive and confident as this one. The problem is that the script often doesn’t amount to something as accomplished as the sum of its parts. Though the movie delivers many effective and startling moments against the backdrop of self-evident but brilliantly vivid messaging, there’s so much going on throughout that it’s all the more disappointing when the film can’t really piece it all together in the end.