Even when there’s not a global pandemic sending movies straight past theaters and onto streaming platforms, there always seems to be a new horror movie available to watch from home, serving some form of blunt-force commentary on society’s more acute woes. But a new Spanish film streaming on Netflix suddenly feels crafted for this exact moment. Are you feeling frustrated by the one percent’s access to lifesaving resources? Is a lesser-quality isolation pushing you into conflict with your similarly disgruntled roommates? Does it seem like a classist system has been rigged to keep you, a have-not, in an eternal struggle for scraps so you can never truly threaten existing power structures? Do you sometimes wake up screaming into the void?
Then you’re in luck, because the horror movie The Platform is here to give you catharsis … maybe. It will either therapeutically allow you to watch as surrogate characters role-play your rage onscreen, or it will play so specifically to your housebound-during-a-pandemic anxieties that you’ll just throw up from stress. (Or you’ll throw up from watching a guy cut out a chunk of another guy’s thigh and eat it. Either way, throwing up is definitely a possibility.)
What exactly goes on in this movie, and how is it timed so perfectly to the burgeoning spring of our self-isolation? The how, we can only assume, is that the release date was picked by the devil as a big practical joke. And the what is this: The Platform is set in a vertical prison composed of hundreds of levels. Each one is a single cell with a hole in the center, through which a platform descends each day to feed the two inmates inside. The big twist here is that the system of food distribution is entirely up to the discretion of the inmates. The food is introduced to the highest level first, and whatever they decide not to eat makes its way down to the next level, so on and so forth, with level assignments getting rearranged once a month. So just because you’re eating semi-well on floor 23 this week, doesn’t mean floor 172 won’t be awaiting you after the next shuffle. (Are you feeling that familiar cold sweat of being at a local Trader Joe’s yet?)
The amount of food on the cement platform is actually calibrated such that every prisoner could have their daily nutrients covered as long as everyone agreed to only eat their share — much like the grocery story could have enough toilet paper and pinto beans if everyone would just stop panic buying. But these inmates, like a lot of your neighbors, are absolutely terrible at community management. And the governing administration in The Platform would really prefer you call the system by its proper name, the Vertical Self-Management Center, because how you could they reinforce the illusion of prisoner choice when you just keep on calling it The Hole?
The story within the movie centers on one new prisoner who refuses to accept the status quo and tries to fight for a better tomorrow, but only after he’s driven into a barbaric state and exploits the good fortune of his initial level placement. (Like Billy Loomis told us in Scream, we all go a little mad sometimes.) For extra fun at home while you watch, consider how the other characters provide interesting analogues for our current selves. Think of it like a personality quiz: Are you the guy who brings a book with him to prison as his single allotted personal item, or are you a guy who brings a sword? Do you answer the people below you when they call up for help, or do you just vomit on the leftovers they’re forced to consume? Do you eat your roommate, or get eaten by your roommate? Who are you, really, when the desperate times kick in?
In an American movie, the central character’s struggle against Self and The Man might be rendered as heroic, but this is an allegorical European horror film, and therefore does not give one goddamn about your feelings. The art direction of The Platform is minimal but striking; the overall experience is grotesque, brutal, and depressing. The metaphor of a society organized vertically so the people on the bottom live at the mercy of those on the top, who deprive and even mock the less fortunate regardless of the fact that their own privilege is so tenuous, is designed to hit you over the head like a cartoon hammer. But is now the time for subtlety? Of course not. Reality has surpassed fanciful metaphors in its absurdity, so let’s just ride this crazy train straight to hell. Or in the case of The Platform, to The Hole.
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