Movie Review – THE PLATFORM


Starring: Ivan Massague

Written by: David Desola & Pedro Rivero

Directed by: Galder Gatzelu-Urrutia

Run Time: 1h 34m

THE PLATFORM (known in its origin country of Spain as EL HOYO (The Hole)) is a 2019 horror film that’s currently available to watch on Netflix UK.

Fair warning – there will be major spoilers in this review because it’s almost impossible to discuss much more than the concept otherwise.

‘The Hole’ as the inmates call it, is a vertical, multi-floor prison (or a “Vertical Self-Management Centre”, according to those who run it). It’s an enormous tower that houses 2 inmates per floor, with a hole in the middle of each room so that inmates can look both up at the higher levels, and down at the lower ones. Once a day, a platform loaded with food descends from the top and stops for a very short time at each level on its way to the bottom.

At the start of each month, inmates wake up with their cell mate and find themselves moved to a different level. No one knows how many levels there are but needless to say, being placed low or even midway down is bad. If everyone only eats what they need to survive, it’s possible that some food might make it to the lowest level and everyone would have enough to live on – but that’s not the way that human nature works. If a prisoner tries to keep some food back after the platform descends, then their room becomes either fatally hot or freezing, unless they throw the hoarded food over the edge of the hole.

You can either view this movie literally, or as an allegory. If you view it literally, prepare to be impressed with the sci-fi ingenuity of an enormous, descending platform that requires no visible mechanisms. I see it all as the latter, so that’s how I’m going to review it. The themes and social metaphors in THE PLATFORM are not in the slightest subtle, but is the movie thought-provoking or at least entertaining enough to be worth a watch? Well, let’s take a look.

Let’s start with the film’s analogy of societal structure and class. At the very top, we see a guy who’s clearly the ‘big boss’, inspecting a fancy-looking kitchen in which decadent dishes are being prepared by many chefs. He checks over each dish, apparently concerned with quality and presentation, before the food is placed on the platform. He’s in charge on this level, but who is above him? Those who built and run The Hole are unseen, abstract people who ultimately control everything.

Then we have the prisoners. Some, like Goreng’s first cellmate Trimagasi, are sentenced for a crime, and others like Goreng are there voluntarily because there’s something in it for them at the end of their time. In Goreng’s case, it’s an academic diploma, in another character’s case, it’s expensive, life-saving medical treatment. So we have those condemned because of their own actions, those who need but can’t otherwise obtain something, and those who didn’t need to enter the system at all, but did so in pursuit of something they want. Regardless, all of these people are now part of the same horrible system, being subjected to horrors that they have no control over. No matter if you’re a cynic or an idealist when you enter The Hole – you probably have more in common with everyone else than you think, once things start getting really difficult.

Something that occured to me as I watched this is that while THE PLATFORM does comment on the imbalance and unfairness of the most privileged, it also critiques the people on the middle and lower levels (or the middle and “lower” classes). The floor the prisoners are placed on seems entirely random, so where they wake up is nothing to do with their choices, morals, intelligence, goals, etc. However, the people on the higher levels tend to act callously to those beneath them. Very few inmates are willing to help those below, even if the month before, they themselves were starving to death on a lower level and in dire need of help. The second they’re elevated to a more privileged position, all sense of human decency is abandoned. You could look at this and think ‘well, that’s human nature, people are selfish’, but I think that’s probably a knee-jerk assessment.

I’d imagine that the resentment and hatred that grows for the people above you, who could have helped but didn’t, has a lot to do with how you decide to behave when you wake up the next month and find yourself in a position of power over them. And even if they couldn’t have helped you – they were still above you, in an arguably better position than you, struggling less than you, with more hope than you, for absolutely no reason other than random chance. They didn’t earn their position, just as you did nothing to condemn yourself to yours.

You could still reach the conclusion, even with empathy, that people revert to being animals, so perhaps they do deserve to suffer, on some level. But the thing to remember is that despite the apparent fairness of a system that randomly places you on a floor, you’re still being placed on those floors by people who are lucky enough to live entirely outside of this system in the first place. They couldn’t possibly understand your suffering because they have never, will never, be subjected to it.

The fact that the people at the top call the place a “Vertical Self-Management System” only goes further to show how out of touch they are with the ‘”lower” classes. The implication of course being that the prisoners would be fine if only they would manage their own behaviour – a ridiculous and unfair idea because the prisoners of the system aren’t even in control of which level they wake up on, or the heinous survival choices that are presented to them in the first place. They’re playing a game that’s rigged against them before they even set food inside. The people at the top are completely apathetic to those beneath them, and most likely think all their struggles are self-inflicted.

Goreng begins his sentence as an idealist that tries to convince the people above him to share the food equally, but his optimism is quickly dashed and replaced by the depressing realisation that everyone simultaneously working towards that goal is impossible. He’s a person of good moral character, who ends up performing acts of cannibalism and murder because those are the options eventually presented to him.

He experiences several levels, but when he wakes up on Level 6 one day, with a new cellmate (Baharet) who’s also an idealist, hope is reignited. He could gorge on the food and forget the people below, and who would blame him after what he’s been through? He surely deserves the break from suffering, and to eat. But unlike most of the others, he still cares. Since it’s impossible to climb up to the top because those above won’t allow them to, Goreng and Baharet decide to descend.

Their plan is to make sure everyone is fed, even for just one day, and then ride the platform all the way back up to the elusive highest level. So they station themselves on the platform, armed with weapons, and go down. With each level they drop down to, they instruct the inmates to only eat what they need. As you can imagine, most people don’t want to comply – the people who are finally able to feast think they deserve to do so and resent being rationed, and those lower down are starving and unable to see reason and exert self-control because, well, they’re starving. I can’t even imagine – as someone who has been made fun of my whole life for having the ‘hanger’. Coming home from a long day where you missed lunch is enough to drive anyone to the fridge and just start eating ham straight out of the packet, so going so long without food that you’re on the brink of death and then NOT gorging on food that’s right in front of you is unimaginable. I’d defy anyone to not just lunge at a plate of potatoes after even only a few days of not eating.

What follows is a darkly funny, ironic sequence of Goreng and Baharet beating and killing people to stop them taking too much food, in the name of helping everyone to survive. They probably kill more people than they’re able to feed. Now, this plan is most definitely in the interest of the greater good – they’re determined to feed the person on the lowest level and everyone else along the way. However, they are now two people descending from above, presumably already fed themselves, restricting and controlling everyone beneath them. They have good intentions and mean well, and what they’re trying to do is objectively the right thing – but they’re now disabling the autonomy of everyone else and inflicting harm on those who don’t comply. They don’t understand that people can’t control the impulse to eat, because they are now coming from a position of having already been given the option to eat as much as they liked.

At some point, they change their minds about their goal, deciding that instead of (or as well as) trying to feed everyone, they want to send a plate of food back to send a message to the higher ups. So they obsessively guard a panna cotta. I think the message they want to send is that they’re not animals, that they’re still a unified civilised society, despite what’s being done to them. But there are flaws in this logic: Goreng and Baharet are murdering people in order to protect the panna cotta, and those at the top of the tower won’t care and the message will be lost on them anyway. They’re not unaware of the suffering beneath them – every month they collect the dead bodies of those who starved to death, committed suicide, or were murdered/cannibalised. They just see themselves as superior, the general populace as “other”, and they simply don’t care. They could help, but won’t.

So, now we’re at the end. There is something to do with a child, but I’m ignoring it because I’m convinced that Goreng hallucinated her. I’m pretty sure that he reached the lowest level alone and that Baharet died of his wounds earlier than Goreng realised because he was hallucinating him too. I’m sure that the implied message about the child is something like ‘with a new generation comes new hope of change’, but that what actually happens is that the panna cotta goes back up on the platform, not the kid. There is no kid.

I think this because in the middle of the movie, there’s a scene where the big boss in the kitchen is walking around, holding a panna cotta that’s been sent back up, infuriated because he thinks it was returned because there was a hair in it. Obviously, this scene is placed out of linear sequence, and I believe it enforces the idea that the upper classes are so out of touch with the majority of society, that even when they see a protest, they don’t understand the complaint. A dish being sent back by a whole prison population who are starving to death is an extreme act of defiance and self-control, but it’s perceived as a shallow and trivial complaint, based on a position of privilege (the hair MUST be the reason the panna cotta is rejected, despite the prisoners wolfing down food that’s been soiled in the most disgusting ways, and had the dirty hands, feet, faces, and saliva of others in it).

So overall, I think the message of this movie is one of futility. It’s all futile. We’re all trapped in an unfair and cruel system of oppression, with no way of knowing just how far up or down it goes, and no hope of real change because that requires the luckiest amongst us to share their wealth, and they won’t. So there’s that.

Also, as it turns out, there are 333 levels to the prison, which means there are 666 prisoners. If that isn’t an implication that either we’re all living in hell, or deserve to, I don’t know what is.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. The themes are as subtle as a sledgehammer to the testicles (I’ve missed out LOADS of details by the way, but I wanted to write a review, not a dissertation), but it’s pretty creative and, I’d argue, layered. There’s definitely enough there to warrant a second watch, for me at least.

As a horror film, this definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s not an ‘oh god, the killer’s behind you!’ movie… although, actually, it sort of is sometimes. What it does do very well is put you in the position of constantly trying to work out, and justify, the decisions that you would make in these circumstances. It’s heinous, but also incredibly entertaining. All around, the performances are great, and despite thinking I’d grow bored of it, I loved the set design and was excited about what each new level of the prison would bring for the characters.

I’d recommend this to people who enjoy a thought-proving watch, and to those movies in claustrophobic settings (e.g. Misery, The Circle, hell, maybe even Saw). You’ll probably enjoy this if you’re particularly drawn to the concept.

I have to go now – I’m hungry as all hell.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: