For Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s first feature film, he did not hold back. The Platform (El Hoyo) is a daring debut, melding political allegory and sci-fi drama with some serious bite. Beautifully paced, the film is told in three acts, each more revealing than the last.
In The Platform, a man wakes up in a dystopian vertical prison with a stranger as a cellmate. Each day, a platform of food descends from above, containing only whatever was not eaten by the upper levels. Every few weeks, the prisoners are switched to another level. As the level number increases, the chance of getting any form of sustenance is grimly diminished. No one knows how many levels there are, but there’s definitely not enough food for all of them.
The script was adapted from a stage play, and it certainly reads as such. The Platform follows two characters at a time as they unravel exposition, weaving it to create the world of the film. It’s a good, tight knit they’re using; the audience learns the rules of the platform at the same time as the lead character.
The first two acts are very self-contained, allowing us to develop an understanding of the prison. It’s not until the third act of the film that the writers carry the story beyond what had been written in the stage play, allowing full creative freedom to stretch their limbs and run.
The Platform is very well structured, setting up conflict that will circle back around, and explaining the intricacies of the system in a clear and concise way. Like a stage play, characters slip in and out, serving a very specific and precise purpose. By shifting the characters to different levels, we can explore the heavy consequences of the lower cells. This, in turn, gives our main character a reason to shift his expectations and ideals as he experiences the darker side of the prison.
Similar to Cube, Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 science fiction cult classic, The Platform really exists within one set. It’s very economical, both in design and function. Its brutalist, barren interior allows us to really focus on the performances and the plot. Each character is allowed to bring one item into the platform prison with them; these props are a perfect representation of their owner, communicating their empathy, ambition, and sinister intent.
Iván Massagué delivers a stunning and soulful performance that is utterly captivating. As the film progresses, his tortured stare pierces through you, communicating volumes of trauma. He has the broken and slowly mending soul of a man who was once full of vigor and hope, and it’s beautifully compelling to watch him traverse through the rocky terrain of these different emotions. He is utterly devastating, and it’s very effective.
The social commentary is not subtle at all — the upper levels eat a luxurious and meticulously prepared meal with no concern for the people underneath them. The lower levels starve, suffer, and fight for every opportunity they get. Those in the middle are able to scrape by, knowing that they could drop down to a lower spot at any moment while striving to reach a higher level.
Any attempt to create a system that ensures a reasonable portion for all is sabotaged by the selfish ill will of the other prisoners. The Platform shines a light on the inherent inequality of the system that we live in and does so in a way that makes it abundantly clear to the audience.
The Platform is set on this heat, bringing it to a slow boil. Throughout the film we’re given a taste of how vicious this prison can be. It all builds up to the explosive third act which jettisons the audience through a battle field of emotion and violence. It’s truly something to behold.
Any genre fan that appreciates a tight story with a sinister twist — think Saw, Cube, and The Raid — should absolutely check this one out. It’s a must see dive into the darkness of humanity that will leave you speechless. The film is enriched with shockingly brutal violence and a strong social message. When it comes to self-contained horror, The Platform takes things to a whole other level.