The Platform (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Trapped in a big horizontal prison

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Spanish film “The Platform”, which won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a small but efficient genre piece trying to push a simple but darkly interesting story idea as much as possible within its grim limited background. Although it is sometimes difficult to watch how the movie ruthlessly drives the story and characters into a series of disturbing moments, you will probably keep watching its slow but inexorable plot progress nonetheless, while wondering what will eventually happen at the end of its allegorical journey.

After the prologue scene suggesting something sinister beneath its seemingly bright mood, the movie promptly thrusts us into the increasingly desperate circumstance of a lad named Goreng (Iván Massagué), who belatedly comes to realize that he made a bad choice as volunteering to spend 6 months in some big futuristic prison facility. When he wakes up in this facility, he finds himself locked up inside the concrete cell along with some older guy, and we come to gather that the facility, which is called “Vertical Self-Management Center”, consists of more than 100 floors, each of which has one concrete cell for two inmates.

Right from his first day at the cell, Goreng gets to know the few important rules in this large prison system. In every cell, there is a big hole in the middle of the floor, and that is the pathway for a big platform to be descended from the very top of the facility everyday. Once a large amount of various dishes is prepared on the platform at the top, the platform will go down and then stop by each floor for a while, and that is the only time when the inmates of this facility can eat.

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Of course, the inmates in the upper part of the facility have more advantage because they are the ones who get the food first, and the inmates incarcerated deep down there in the facility do not get much to say the least. Goreng’s cellmate, who has been in the facility for several months, advises that he should eat whatever is left on the platform just in case, and Goreng soon comes to find how merciless the facility really is, when he happens to violate one certain rule without much thought.

Goreng thinks he and other inmates in the facility must stick together for fighting against the system, but, not so surprisingly, his idealistic idea is quickly crumpled by his cellmate and other inmates on nearby floors. Everyone is mostly occupied with how to eat and survive more, and Goreng is also ridiculed by his cellmate for bringing a book instead of something more useful under his circumstance.

And there is a dreadful possibility constantly hanging over him and all other inmates in the facility. Every one month, two inmates on each floor are automatically transferred together to different floor, and it looks like there is no perceivable rule on how this transfer is determined in each case. Everyone certainly hopes to be transferred to higher floor, but they also fear that they may be transferred to lower floor, where they may be driven to unspeakable deeds mainly due to the lack of food.

It goes without saying that Goreng subsequently chooses to make some extreme choices later in the story, and the screenplay by David Desola and Pedro Rivero, which is based on Desola’s story, diligently accumulates the sense of dread step and step as occasionally showing some dark sense of humor. There is a recurring story element involved with Goreng’s certain favorite dish, and it is sort of amusing to watch how that is utilized for several uncomfortable moments of black humor in the film.

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And we get to know more of the diabolical aspects of the facility in the movie. As trying to improve his chance of survival during next several months, Goreng gets to know some other inmates in the facility by chance, and they all have each own insane way to cope with their seemingly endless despair. In case of one silent female character who turns out to be quite more dangerous than she seems on the surface, we are told that she has been looking for her young child here and there in the facility, but then we come to have doubt on whether her young child really exists.

After sliding up and down its plot course as expected, the movie finally arrives at a climactic part where our hero comes to have a sort of revelation as required, and that is where it begins to lose its narrative momentum as becoming more predictable than before. At least, it does not fell apart thanks to the competent direction of director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, and he and his cast members did a solid job of keeping us on the edge till the ending, which feels rather weak compared to the rest of the film. While the characters in the film are more or less than archetype characters, Iván Massagué and several other main cast members in the movie are believable in their intense depiction of hopelessness and despair, and Zorion Eguileor is particularly fine in his juicy supporting role.

Overall, “The Platform”, which is currently available on Netflix in US and several other countries, is tense and skillful enough to hold my attention, and I was entertained by its strong elements even while reminded of similar SF horror films such as “Cube” (1997). The overall result may not be that refreshing, but it works as well as intended, and that is enough to me for now.

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