The Platform Review: Netflix's Dystopian Sci-Fi Thriller Feels Very Real

  • First Released Mar 20, 2020
  • movie

This powerful futuristic satire balances horror, drama, and very dark humour.

The Spanish dystopian sci-fi satire The Platform has been set for a Netflix release for a while. The streaming giant bought the distribution rights when the movie made its US premiere at Fantastic Fest in September 2019, and the plan was always to release it sometime in 2020. But at that stage no one could have predicted how horribly apt the release of a movie in which isolation and food shortage play a key part of the plot would be in March 2020.

Like many of the best dystopian sci-fi movies--from Planet of the Apes to Escape from New York--The Platform takes modern life to a chilling extreme. At some point in the future, prisoners are placed into a narrow skyscraper-like construction consisting of hundreds of levels, known amongst the inmates as the pit. Each level is occupied by two people, with a gap in the center through which a large platform passes daily. At the start of each day, the platform is loaded with an incredible array of food--slowly it descends through the pit, giving the inhabitants at each stage a few minutes to grab what they can. The further the platform descends, the less food there will be for those on the lower levels. Each inmate duo starts every month randomly assigned to a new level--it could be one of the higher levels, where food is plentiful, or down below with only a few scraps.

The Platform is not a subtle movie, and its influences are obvious. The 1997 cult sci-fi favorite Cube is an obvious comparison, with its protagonists trapped in a room in a mysterious futuristic building, as is Snowpiercer, with its inventive take on class and social divisions. Surreal Spanish director Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel is another; this 1962 classic focuses on a group of upper-class dinner guests who find they cannot leave the room and descend into a primal state. And there are also shades of groundbreaking writers JG Ballard and Samuel Beckett, and their dark dystopian visions and absurdist comedy respectively.

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Thankfully, the film is far more than the sum of its influences. It focuses on an average man named Goreng, who unlike most of the other criminal inmates, has willingly submitted himself to the pit--or the "Vertical Self-Management Center," to give the structure its official name. We see Goreng signing up for the process with a non-nonsense beaurocrat--the deal is that if he stays eight months, he will gain an important academic qualification. It's a smart move from writers David Desola and Pedro Rivero and director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, because while the other characters that Goreng encounters are, by turns, funny, scary, strange, and sad, none of them are--unsurprisingly--particularly sympathetic.

The longer Goreng stays in the pit--sometimes near the top, other times towards the bottom--the more he realizes that there is a chance for everyone. "Eat your share and prepare two similar ones for the next level" becomes his mantra--if everyone takes just enough food for themselves then there will be enough for everyone. But this is not how desperate humans work, and soon he begins to devise a plan to close down the whole system.

The first part of the movie focuses on Goreng's time with Trimagasi, an elderly man with a particular affection for his knife, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship. The movie adopts a heightened and darkly humorous tone from the start, and much of Goreng and Trimagasi's interaction is very funny. Until it all heads into a very unpleasant place, that is. Ultimately, all anyone is really interested in is their own survival, and when people get hungry, they are driven to desperate behavior. So be warned, at times The Platform is as much a grueling horror movie as it is a sci-fi thriller or black comedy, with some deeply unsettling moments.

Unlike many movies that use (or reuse) a single setting, The Platform never feels overly theatrical or constrained by a lack of budget. Azegiñe Urigoitia's brilliant production design and Gaztelu-Urrutia's inventive direction create a claustrophobic and believable self-contained environment that stretches thousands of feet in either direction. Viewers expecting to learn more about the world beyond the pit might be disappointed--this isn't Westworld. The focus is purely on the poor people who have to exist within this appalling situation, and the way human nature reacts to the most extreme of circumstances.

While the movie is never boring, Gaztelu-Urrutia's does push the concept to its limits--after 90 minutes you'll be as desperate to leave the pit as its inhabitants. But that's really the point, and it’s impressive how well he juggles humor, gore, thrills, and social commentary without letting any one aspect overwhelm the other. This might be either the best time or the worst time to watch a movie like The Platform, but if you do venture down into the pit, it's a journey you won't quickly forget.

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The Good

  • Powerful satire on class, punishment, and social division
  • Stunning production design
  • Inventive direction
  • Expertly balances horror, drama, and humor

The Bad

  • Not for those with weak stomachs

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