I think it is worth being fair to screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero: I'm sure the genesis of The Platform was at least a little bit more sophisticated than, "what if Snowpiercer was, like, vertical?" But wherever the idea ultimately came from, the comparison is there to be made, and reductive as it is, I think it's a useful comparison to make on top of it. It makes it much easier to pin down exactly what's gone awry in The Platform, a not particularly good film that is interesting mostly for being the first direct-to-streaming hit of the Great 2020 Coronavirus Quarantine.

The biggest thing is that, ultimately, Snowpiercer told a functioning story in a functioning world. You might have quibbles with that story. You might think that world is a bit stupid. Given where the final act of Snowpiercer goes, I'm not apt to fight you. But at least it makes sense as an action movie, whether you agree with me that it's a good one or not. It's  extremely obvious, beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-golf-club approach to social satire comes out of a story that works in its own terms, if you buy into the premise.

The Platform, in contrast, doesn't really function at all. The film takes place in some kind of terrifying concrete sci-fi prison, a deep pit tunneling Lord knows how many stories into the ground (the original Spanish title translates to The Hole, which speaks to a slightly different emphasis that I prefer). On each floor, in a room some 30 feet square I'd guess, are two inmates. Every day, once a day, a platform is lowered, floor-by-floor, covered with a lavish spread of grand-looking food. There is enough at the start of the platform's trip for every single inmate in the prison to get their fair share of calories for the day, but in practice the inhabitants of the higher floors overindulge themselves, meaning that by the time the platform reaches the 50s, there are only dregs left, and by the time it reaches the 100s, there's nothing. Once a month, the prisoners who haven't been cannibalised are shuffled and re-assigned, so everybody can experience both the luxury of the top floors and the privation of the bottom.

Like Snowpiercer, we have here a sci-fi conceit that's an insanely obvious indictment of neoliberal capitalism and austerity politics. We could all have what we need, the film argues, if only the people up top didn't take more than their fair share. The huge difference is that there is absolutely no way in which the prison of The Platform makes sense as anything other than a heavy-handed metaphor. And frankly, it's not a very good metaphor on top of it. "Everybody gets shuffled once a month" is already enough to make a hash of whatever message the film thinks it's making: poor people in India don't spontaneously wind up controlling New York hedge funds for a month, last I checked. Besides which, the message is frankly unpalatable. By the end, the point seems clear enough that it's a pro-solidarity message; the lower classes need to stop attacking each other and unify to attack the upper class. But this is hard to square with the more straightforward rich vs. poor metaphor that it seems to be building in the first half. And in either case, it's smarmy moral hectoring, suggesting that the poor are kind of responsible for their own suffering on account of being violent and thuggish.

None of this would necessarily break the movie, except it's so obsessed with its muddy metaphor that it has nothing else. In the absence of a plausible scenario, the metaphor is all we've got. But The Platform does, at least, try to give us something like a story, even if it's one that doesn't have the room to breathe. Our guide through the prison world is newly-arrived voluntary inmate Goreng (Ivan Massagué) - oh, that's another thing, it's not just a prison, people can also serve time here as a form of payment for certain benefits in the outside world. Which does nothing to clarify the metaphor. He learns and we learn how this place works from Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), an older man with a much wilier survival instinct than the somewhat pie-eyed Goreng, and a distinct potential for violence. Later on, as he's mixed with other cellmates: first Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), one of the administrators of the complex, who has voluntarily committed herself in the hopes of learning more about the horrible conditions in the hole, and then Baharat (Emilio Buale), the first person he meets who seems to be willing to strategise ways of fighting this system. Why these people all have names that are random Indonesian nouns, I cannot say.

Parts of this work well enough: in particular, the early scenes between Goreng and Trimagasi make for a fairly tense and doom-laden two-hander, in which different ways of surviving an impossible situation are lined up against each other. It helps that Eguileor gives easily the film's best performance, insidious in a sort of evil grandfather way; the film has the good sense to realise this, and keep him on as a hallucination that Goreng keeps seeing, after they've been separated as cellmates. The end starts to get unmanageably ridiculous, with the more we learn about the hole pushing it all the way into pure writerly contrivance. There are ways of making this work, presumably; the film isn't so far removed from the cult classic Cube from 1997, which if anything makes even less sense as anything but an extended metaphor. The difference is that Cube allows its characters to recognise that they're in some bizarre setting that can't work and makes no sense; it's a pure survival thriller where the baffling scenario is itself one more thing to be survived. In The Platform, characters regard their situation as unpleasant, but not inexplicable - they all seem to understand as a matter of course that the hole exists and has been constructed fora  purpose. Cube is also not a message movie, except in some vague Twilight Zone sense, where it's about how humans are untrustworthy animals; it doesn't have any need to work intellectually, only viscerally. The Platform is speaking to a much more specific set of social relationships, and it's doing a piss-poor job of it.

On top of which, it's a resolutely bland-looking movie, made up of indistinguishable grey rooms, and samey compositions (to be fair to director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and cinematographer Jon D. Dominguez, there can't be that many ways to film these scenes in this location). It has some good gore sequences; when violence it erupts, it does so suddenly and in  grimy close-ups, though I wish it didn't also tend to trigger such choppy editing. But good gore scenes and a few good psychologically-draining conversations with an ambiguous psycopath aren't enough to make a good thriller, and The Platform's handful of strengths are a poor counterbalance to its conceptual inanity.