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Food for thought - ‘The Platform’

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Sometimes, films choose to utilize subtlety when it comes to presenting underlying messages and themes. They gently and delicately weave their ideas into the fabric of the story, leaving the viewers to work things out for themselves.

Other times, films are brutally overt with their messaging. These are films that wield their meanings with loud impunity, performing their ideological surgery with an axe as opposed to a scalpel. They are conceptual blunt force trauma.

“The Platform” – Spanish title “El Hoyo” – is new to streaming on Netflix; the film marks the feature debut of director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. It’s a bleak and compelling piece of genre fare, one that uses its limited but undeniably effective dystopian setting to deliver some far-from-subtle thoughts on the nature of class divide and a powerful condemnation of the top-down economic model that dominates the world today.

We watch as a sharply-dressed man walks through a massive kitchen, overseeing the preparation of an enormous feast. He is meticulous and demanding, all without uttering a word. Gourmet foods are heaped upon a massive table, all of them exquisitely made.

A man named Goreng (Ivan Massague, TV’s “Welcome to the Family”) wakes up, disoriented and frightened. He is in a concrete cell, empty save for two beds, a sink … and a rectangular hole in the middle of the floor. Occupying the other bed is Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor, “Pikadero”), an unstable older fellow who fills Goreng in on the realities of his new situation.

This is “The Pit,” a massive, multi-leveled concrete structure. Each level is occupied by two … residents? Inmates? It’s deliberately left unclear as to whether the Pit – dubbed by the equally undefined authoritative entity referred to only as “The Administration” – is a prison; Goreng has entered voluntarily, while Trimigasi is here against his will. Each person is allowed to bring in one object – any object. Gerong’s choice was a copy of “Don Quixote,” but he’s in the minority – most bring a weapon. Trimigasi, for instance, has an oddly-backstoried knife. Currently, they are on Level 48, but each month, pit dwellers are moved to another, randomly-selected level; the bigger the number, the lower the level.

And the hole in the floor? That’s where food comes from. You see, the food platform begins at the top, on Level One, with the splendidly appointed feast put forth by the kitchen. Each level receives a set amount of time with the platform before it descends to the next; the people at the top gorge themselves, but their gluttony means that those on the lower levels are left with scraps or nothing at all.

As Goreng’s time in the Pit passes, he moves up and down among the levels, slowly being confronted by the chaotic madness of the world in which he now lives. But as he encounters more residents – a former intake clerk for the Pit (Antonia San Huan, TV’s “Hierro”), a madwoman (Alexandra Masangkay, “1898: Our Men in the Philippines”) searching for a lost child that may not be real – his grasp of reality deteriorates, leaving him seeing ghosts and ultimately deciding to undertake a Quixotic quest of his own.

“The Platform” is a well-executed piece of filmmaking, blending sci-fi and horror elements to most effectively deliver the gutpunch of its thematic foundation. The single-room setting isn’t always a successful conceit, but in this case, the brutalist bleakness and sameness of the cells is a perfect delivery system to convey the dehumanization writ large of the world of the film. Exposition is limited to a couple of brief cutaway scenes and some in-story context; the absence of explanation invites the individual imagination to fill in the blanks.

Visually, the washed-out palette of the film is an ideal choice; not only does it convey the general hopelessness inherent to the setting, it presents a neutral backdrop against which to set the shocking and graphic moments of gore – Gaztelu-Urrutia is unafraid to get gross in ways both expected and surprising.

Massague is given the unenviable task of serving as the audience surrogate, the eyes through which we view the world. It’s a strong performance, one that allows for a degree of empathy even as we witness some truly horrific things. Equileor is equal parts charming and unsettling, a perfect illustration of the insanity that can come from institutionalization. The others – San Huan, Masangkay, Emilio Buale – all find ways to push forward their scenes. And there are a number of supporting players who appear only briefly, fellow residents exuding haughtiness (from above) or resentment (from below).

“The Platform” is about as subtle as a punch in the face, but that’s by design. The best genre filmmaking is provocative in its messaging, embracing the remove offered by the media platform (see what I did there?) to challenge and condemn the evils of the society as considered by the filmmakers. It’s social commentary via blunt instrument, using genre trappings and pitch-black satire as a club, bashing at its targets with barely restrained glee.

Truly, this film offers some real food for thought.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 20 March 2020 16:36

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