TIFF Review: ‘The Platform’ is a scorched-Earth horror satire

Courtesy of TIFF

Editor’s Note: Vanyaland’s Nick Johnston is north of the border all week long for the 2019 Toronto International Film Festivalclick here for our continued coverage from the fest and also check out our full TIFF archives of past coverage.

Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform is a solid Brechtian horror satire about literal trickle-down economics and how they fail everyone but those at the very top, and its first half-hour might be the most compelling first act of all of this year’s Midnight Madness slate. That’s when we’re introduced to Goreng (Ivan Massague), an eager social climber who signed himself up to be a part of a giant, odd psuedo-prison called the Pit in exchange for an accredited degree on the completion of his six month term. He figures it won’t be too hard of a wait, and besides, he’s got a copy of Don Quixote as his one luxury item to keep him company (he’s never read it, you know). But upon opening his eyes on the first day of the experiment, something seems… off. He’s in a square cell, sitting across from his cellmate, the elderly Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), and there’s a giant square hole in the middle of the room and in the ceiling. Looking up and down the shaft, he sees that there are identical cells stacked on top and on bottom, as far as the eye can see, populated by two other prisoners. They have a toilet and a sink, and bedding, of course, but there’s no food in sight. That’s because, once a day, a giant square — basically a concrete banquet table — is lowered down to each cell, where the prisoners can eat to their hearts’ content for a few minutes until it moves down. It’s stacked with all of the inmates’ favorite foods, prepared by the finest chefs in the world.

The problem, however, is that once the platform is lowered, it’s never replenished until it shoots all the way back up to the top, where the chefs wait with a new day’s food. That means the people on the first floor get their pick of the dishes, and are able to eat as much as they want, handfuls at a time. The people at the very bottom? Well, they don’t get jack shit, the empty silver dishes and crystal bowls taunting them with the remains of the meal they won’t get to eat. The two men are on Level 43, so there’s still some amount of food left by the time the platform gets to them. Trimagasi, having been in the Pit for several months already, knows that he’s been fortunate this month, and digs in hungrily to the leftovers every time it arrives. At first, Goreng doesn’t partake, though he discovers when he tries to keep an apple from the spread that they’ll be either burned or frozen to death if they try to keep any food in their cells, but eventually he relents and eats hungrily. But one night, Trimagasi gets a whiff of gas, and tells Goreng that they’re about to be moved, and that they should pray for a good placement. When the pair awake the next morning, they’re almost a hundred levels below where they were the day before, and Trimigasi has tied Goreng to his bed. The old man tells him that, soon enough, he’ll begin carving pieces of his flesh off, one at a time, so that they can survive, using his luxury item: A knife.

All that happens in only the first 20 or so minutes of The Platform, and Gaztelu-Urrutia’s movie only gets crazier and crazier from then on, culminating in an orgy of violence, horror and cannibalism that’s just a little bit of a let-down when compared to how wonderfully it starts. What I haven’t mentioned is just how witty the Brechtian dialogue is at the start, when Trimagasi and Goreng are exchanging early barbs and throwing stories at each other about why they’re in this situation together. Eguileor is by far the standout here, as his mischievous, impish grin mocks Goreng and the viewer with hidden knowledge and unknown scheming.

Stylistically, The production design is solid as hell, and feels roughly unique, though the intersection of brutalism and horror is one well understood at this point. The execution goes a long way towards helping the concept veer away from Cube territory, and it maintains the hyper-surrealist vibe all the way until the closing credits. That also keeps the thematics from feeling overly preachy — though they’re always there, there’s never a sense of didacticism in how it’s used — nor does it ever brag to you about how clever its being. The gore, which is plentiful and goofy as fuck, and the comedy, deserve the lion’s share of the credit of keeping the film light. A late-film shift towards a “savior” narrative is a bit of a bummer, but for the majority of its runtime, The Platform is a scorched-Earth satire and a whole lot of fun.