Sitges Review: 'The Platform' is Social Commentary Cooked Just Right
by Alex Billington
October 7, 2019
Each year we get to see a new selection of films criticizing modern society, governments, and everything else wrong with the way things work. But only a few of these films deserve to be crowned and called the crème de la crème of cinema. The Platform is the latest film worthy of the label, a conceptually innovative film like Saw and Cube before it that has already instantly cemented itself in halls of cinema history playing to rave reviews back-to-back at the Toronto Film Festival (where it won the Midnight Madness Audience Award), at Fantastic Fest, and finally at the Sitges Film Festival. For those wondering – yes, it does live up to the hype, and then some. But don't expect some big, flashy, eclectic film – this contained horror drama is as minimal as Saw and Cube, taking place entirely inside the barren rooms of an insidious vertical prison called The Pit.
The Platform takes place entirely inside this vertical prison known as The Pit - we only learn so much about it. One man named Goreng, played by Ivan Massagué, volunteers to spend some months inside in hopes of emerging with a diploma afterwards. "The Pit" is an obvious metaphor for social hierarchy, constructed as a visual metaphor but also incredibly useful as a storytelling tool. Two people wake up on each level and must live there for a month. A lavish tray of food is placed at the top level every day, then moved down each level until there's nothing left. If only each person ate only their necessary share of the food, everyone else could have some. But by the time it gets below 50, there's pretty much nothing left. You don't even want to know how the 200+ other people below survive (or don't). It's disgusting, it's horrifying, but that's society for you.
This metaphor, the entire concept, is obvious but that doesn't matter. In fact, the film even jokes about the obviousness of it at all, turning the Spanish word for obvious – "obvio" – into a running joke. Directed by Basque filmmaker Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, with a screenplay by David Desola and Pedro Rivero, the film is a perfectly realized representation of modern society within a small package. It's a more sleeker, full-on version of Denis Villeneuve's short film Next Floor (watch here) about how those who are "above" us in society look down on those below, and won't dare share any of what they have, even if it means the death of the others below them. It's nasty, but accurate. It's brutal, but honest. And the film embraces all of this – the nastiness and the honesty – as we follow this story of one simple man trying to figure out how to survive this nastiness and, possibly, how to disrupt the system. It's not as easy as you think, which is another revelation.
The more I think about it, the more fond of it I am… There's so much commentary baked right in – beyond just the horribleness of our modern social hierarchy and how selfish people (always) are, it discusses how hard it is to fix things, how relentless the system is, how our addiction to survival blinds us, and much more beyond all that. The platforms aren't just simple representations of societal rankings, but there are subtle aspects about the entire setup that represent the struggles of daily life and survival. The whole idea of the diploma is the belief that if you put yourself through a few months of hell, you may end up with some item that allows you to go up a few levels in life. Inside, people can still see each other but no one talks because everyone maintains their place. The more you discuss the film and details, the more you may discover in it.
With this film and with Bong Joon-ho's masterpiece Parasite, this year we have two of the best films of the last decade (or maybe ever?) masterfully criticizing capitalism and social hierarchy and inherent greed. And it's goddamn glorious to see, and to see them received so enthusiastically by audiences all over the world. I always enjoy watching these kinds of films, because when they're made well – as this one is – they connect with everyone universally all over the world and give us something more to think about. They challenge us in ways that we (as humans) need to be challenged. Viewers from every country need to have their collective pot stirred. They're provocative in just the right way, re-energizing us with a drive to actually go out and do something and make a difference. This film even tries that, not successfully, but at least it's a reminder that the solution isn't as simple as "well, if only everybody would share equally." That ain't happening, friendo.
Gaztelu-Urrutia's The Platform has pretty much already established its place in cinema history. Now I can't wait for more people to discover it with more time. It's a remarkably a clever social hierarchy metaphor that gets right into the meat of it. Literally. Simple but effective, a thrilling and rousing film that deserves our attention. The more people I can convince to see this film, the better. Just give it a shot. Yes – it is obvious, but playfully obvious, and necessarily obvious. Sometimes we need to be reminded that even though society doesn't look exactly like this prison "pit", it definitely feels like that at times. And sometimes we need to be reminded that there is more we can do, or that we can try to do, than just be selfish and ignore everyone else. Sometimes it takes a gritty, minimalistic, excellent Spanish horror film to slap some sense into us all.
Alex's Sitges 2019 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing