'The Platform' Review: 'Cube' Meets 'Don Quixote' In This Dystopian Horror Film [TIFF 2019]

"Hunger unleashes the madman in us. It's better to eat than be eaten."

Goreng (Iván Massagué) has volunteered to enter The Pit for six months in order to earn his associate's degree, have some quiet time to finally read Don Quixote and kick his smoking habit. But what The Administration hasn't told him is that The Pit is a vertically stacked prison leaving its inmates to starve or cannibalize each other, in Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia's sci-fi dystopian horror The Platform.

Each day in The Pit, an exquisite banquet of haute cuisine is sent down through the levels, allowing cellmates (two per level) to eat what they want before it passes downward. Those on the high levels can eat their fill. By the time the platform reaches the middle of The Pit, only scraps are left. By the time it reaches the bottom, there's no food to be had. Of course there's something to be said for those in the most fortunate positions conserving food so everyone can eat, and Gaztelu-Urrutia gleefully hammers home the message of feast versus famine. Unsurprisingly, The Platform's portrayal of humanity doesn't leave much room for generosity, rationing or compassion – unless you count our chivalrous knight-errant Goreng, who racks up hapless Sancho Panzas in each new cell, each new month.

First we have Zorion Eguileor as Trimagasi, the stubborn old devil on Goreng's shoulder. There's Alexandra Masangkay as Miharu, who fights her way down the levels every day, searching for her lost son. There's Antonia San Juan as Imoguiri, a naïve representative of The Administration who volunteers for The Pit because she believes in its power to change society. And there's Emilio Buale as Baharat, the only member of The Pit who matches Goreng in his quixotism.

Don't be fooled by its classic literary references and lofty ideals about collectivism – The Platform is a dirty blast. The unique cell – affordably rendered, creatively conceived – brings to mind Vincenzo Natali's 1997 low-budg dystopian crowd-pleaser Cube, but the inmate-inflicted violence of The Pit cheerfully surpasses The Cube's booby traps by, well, by a lot. As Trimagasi constantly reminds Goreng, in The Pit, it's kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, and most everyone here is prepared to kill and eat in the most gruesome way possible. My 9:00 a.m. press screening had a higher than usual number of walkouts, audience members who maybe weren't prepared to see strips of flesh ripped off our protagonist's bones and gnawed upon before they'd enjoyed their own breakfast.

And, like Cube, Gaztelu-Urrutia's camerawork is inventive enough – his pacing tidy enough, his tone clever enough, his performances engaging enough – that we never get tired of seeing the same four walls and few faces throughout The Platform's running time. For being so deeply dark, the film is surprisingly funny and thoughtful, and it's got a wonderful, sly energy to it, helped along by Aránzazu Calleja's singular score and some very dexterous editing by Haritz Zubillaga and Elena Ruiz.

So, yeah: starvation, cannibalism, heinous violence and no small amount of feces aside, The Platform makes spending time in The Pit a pretty intriguing enterprise.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10