Brief synopsis: a principled man volunteers to go into a featureless, multi-levelled prison to earn a diploma. His humanity is tested, as the level one is on determines how much food you get.
Is it any good?: Yes. A psychological horror, The Platform – El Hoyo (The Hole – original Spanish title) – is a powerful story about humanity and its base instincts.
Spoiler territory: a restaurant boss (Txubio Fernández) presides over a busy kitchen creating a myriad array of meals and delicacies. Goreng (Ivan Massagué) wakes up in a cell. There is an older man in the cell with him, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), who tells him they are on level forty-eight.
Goreng does not know what that means. He looks around and asks if they are in the hole. Trimagasi explains to him that they are and it is the beginning of the month. That means, Trimagasi continues, only one thing. What are they going to eat? Goreng does not know the answer. Trimagasi answers his own question. They will eat whatever is left from the level above; level forty-seven.
Goreng looks down into a large rectangular hole in the floor. Below there are multiple levels, with two people on every level. He cannot see how far it goes down. He asks if Trimagasi knows what the hole entails. The old man tells him eating. Goreng calls down to the people below but Trimagasi tells him they will not talk to him. Why? Because they are below. The same goes for those above.
Trimagasi grabs his pillow and kneels next to the edge of the hole. A red light on the wall goes off and a green one comes on. Goreng asks why that is. Trimagasi does not answer. He looks up to the hole. A platform descends from the hole. When it gets to their level, it stops. The platform is covered in half-eaten food with plates and glasses strewn all over.
An unperturbed Trimagasi digs into the food, shovelling food into his mouth with both hands. Goreng looks at the platform with disgust. He works out that the food has already been consumed by at least ninety-four people. Goreng picks up an apple and puts it in his pocket, planning to eat it later.
The platform lowers to the next level. The room begins to get hot. Goreng mentions it to Trimagasi. He explains that the room will continue to get hotter or colder if anyone holds on to food. Goreng throws the apple into the hole.
Before being put into the hole, Goreng had been made to understand that he had to commit to the period that he agreed to spend there. He would not be able to leave beforehand. Goreng had enquired as to whether he had been accepted. Not yet. What one item did he want to take into the hole? He would take a book.
He tells Trimagasi about being accepted into the hole. Trimagasi asks him if he volunteered. He did. Six months in exchange for an accredited diploma. Trimagasi says he should get two diplomas as he is there for a year. Goreng asks what did he do to end up there. He had been watching an infomercial and bought a kitchen knife but had been angered by the same sales team promoting a similar knife in the next commercial. The knife had been better. Trimagasi had hurled his television out of the window and it had killed an immigrant who had been cycling past.
Goreng asks how many levels there are. The old man does not know but he has been as low as level 132. Goreng says what about the food. Trimagasi says there is no food by the time it gets to that level. Goreng reason that one has to eat. Trimagasi tells him that it does not mean one does not eat. Goreng tells him that he chose a book as his item and asks what he chose. The old man shows him the kitchen knife that never goes blunt from the infomercial.
As the days go by, Goreng eats from the leftovers. Trimagasi scratches the number of days into the wall. They spend a month at each level and are then moved. They do not know which level they will be moved to and simply wake up on another level.
Goreng asks Trimagasi how many levels he has been on. The old man tells him he started on level seventy-two. He mentions several other levels. Goreng challenges him, saying that if he is with him, he must have had a different roommate before. As he does not look as though he has missed a meal, Goreng speculates that he probably fed on one of his former roommates.
Trimagasi does not answer. The food platform comes down. There is a woman, Mihara (Alexandra Masangkay) sitting on it. The old man ignores her and begins to eat. Goreng tries to talk to her but she recoils. Trimagasi tells him that she is looking for her son and that she kills her cellmate every month in the hope of being put with her son the next time.
The platform moves down to the next level with Mihara still on it. The men on the next level attack her. She kills them. The months continue and one-night Trimagasi notes the smell of gas. He tells Goreng that they are being put to sleep and will be moved. He only has two months left.
Goreng is gagged and tied to his bed when he wakes up. Trimagasi has tied him up because they are on level 171. Trimagasi reasons that, given Goreng’s youth, he would be at a considerable disadvantage when it got to a decisive time. Trimagasi plans to starve him a little, to clean him out. Then he will flay him. A week passes and the old man plans to begin on his thigh. He cuts into his leg and cuts away a chunk of muscle.
Mihara comes down on the platform and smashes him over the head. She takes his knife and slices his throat. She then cuts Goreng free. She gives him the kitchen knife. Goreng drags himself over to the dying Trimagasi and kills him. Goreng passes out. He wakes later and Mihara has bound his wound. She is eating Trimagasi. She feeds some of his flesh to Goreng.
Mihara returns to the platform and keeps going down in search of her child. Goreng is eating the remains of Trimagasi and sees him in his mind. The gas comes again. He wakes up with a small dog licking his face. He is on level thirty-three, Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan) and her dog Ramasesses 2 is in the cell with him. She is amazed he decided to bring a book into the hole.
Goreng wants to know how she knows his name. She was the one who interviewed him for the hole. He asks how many people she sent the hole. She reminds him that he volunteered. She also volunteered to come into the hole. How many levels are there? She says there are 200. He tells her there is not enough food for that many levels. She says that they have to try and convince people to only eat enough and leave some for those below.
Imoguiri tries to reason with those below. They ignore her. She tries over several days to no avail. Goreng threatens to defecate in the food if they do not agree to ration their food. Mihara comes down on the platform the next day. She is poorly. Goreng pulls her off of the platform and looks after her. Mihara regains her health and kills the dog. She goes back on to the platform.
Goreng tells Imoguiri about Mihara’s son. Imoguiri says she does not have a son and that she came in alone. She was the one who put her in there. She tells him that she has cancer and that it is terminal. Goreng continues to apportion the food, Imoguiri does not eat anything, mourning the loss of her dog. They are on the last day at that level. The next day Goreng wakes up on level 202.
Imoguiri has committed suicide. Hung herself with her sheets. The mental apparition of Trimagasi appears again, telling him she hung herself so as he could feed. An apparition of Imoguiri also appears, agreeing with the old man. Goreng is going mad.
With no food getting down as far as 202, he counts the days and tries to work out how many levels there are in the hole as there are obviously more than two hundred. He wakes up on level six. He is with Baharat (Emilio Buale), an excitable black man who is trying to get those on level five to help him climb up.
They tell him to throw the rope up and they will help. As he climbs the woman defecates on him as he gets near to the top. He falls back to six. Goreng watches the men on seven fighting over the food. He has a plan. He persuades Baharat to help him pass through the levels and only allow people to eat enough food to live. Every level will eat every other day as he had worked out that he believes there are 250 levels.
The men start to execute the plan. After going down several levels, Baharat, who had been using intimidation to stop people grabbing at the food, encounters Sr. Brambang (Eric L. Goode). He respects him greatly and listens as he tells him that he needs to be more respectful and that they need to send a message back up to level zero. The message should be an exquisitely prepared meal. The choose a panna cotta.
The men agree. Their more laid back approach falls on deaf ears and the men are forced to return to violence and intimidation, all the while preserving the panna cotta. The further down they go, the more savage the inhabitants are. The platform goes past floors where all the inhabitants are dead.
The men come to a floor where Mihara is being eaten alive by a man, he stops temporarily to stab her to death. Goreng attacks him. Baharat fights his roommate who slices him across the guts with a samurai sword. Baharat kills him and then kills the other man who had been strangling Goreng. They return to the platform. They keep moving down through the levels, the inhabitants ever more savage.
The platform eventually stops at level 333. There is a young Asian girl in the room. They get off of the platform. It goes down further. They give the girl the panna cotta. Goreng hallucinates again, Ttimagasi talking to him. He is woken up by Baharat telling him that the girl is the message. He wakes up. That too is a dream. Baharat is dead having bled out from his wounds. He puts the girl on the platform. Trimagasi tells him that the girl is the message, not him. He leaves the girl alone on the platform. The platform, which travels quickly when going up, takes the girl up. The end.
The Platform is a gripping psychological horror up until the last five minutes where it leaves you a little unsatisfied with the conclusion. There are a lot of unanswered questions: What is the hole? Why was the girl in there? What was the purpose? Was it a prison or an experiment? Did anyone ever get out? So many questions!
The performances are excellent from all involved and the set design is wonderfully stark and oppressive. Sound is good as well, with the music adding to the already tense atmosphere of the story. Especially at this time – writing during a worldwide pandemic – this story of base human instincts seems particularly relevant.
Written by David Desola and directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, the film does not answer any of the moral questions either, instead leaving it to the viewer to decide who they would relate to or align with.
Visually, the film is stark. Rich in the kitchen scenes and scary in the hole scenes. Truthfully though, I could not see the point of the kitchen scenes. They only showed that the food began as haute cuisine. As the film demonstrated that even those who found themselves in a privileged position did not appreciate it, there was little to give weight to these scenes.
That being said, The Platform is an engaging watch and it was only really on second viewing and given time to think about it, that I could find these frustrating niggles in the plot. At ninety-four minutes long it is perhaps too short and could have given the viewer a bit more story context with and extra fifteen minutes. The Platform is, nonetheless, a good and highly watchable film.