Dir: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Star: Iván Massagué, Antonia San Juan, Zorion Eguileor, Emilio Buale
a.k.a. El hoyo
I’ll take “Unsubtle social metaphors” for $600, please, Alex… I said, “I’LL TAKE UNSUBTLE SOCIAL METAPHORS”!!! Yeah, it’s kinda like that, in this film set in a bizarre “Vertical Self-Management Center” of several hundred, single-room levels.. Each level contains two people, and down the middle runs a hole, through which a food-laden platform is lowered from top to bottom daily. Those on the top get to eat their fill. Those in the middle get scraps. Those at the bottom? Well, they survive however they can. Each person gets to bring in one item to help them survive, and your level is randomly swapped every month. The latest inmate is Goreng (Massagué), whose chosen object is a copy of Don Quixote, for reasons which are never adequately explained.
The main problem is the movie is so eager to make its points about class and capitalism, it doesn’t bother to establish the necessary ground-rules. We never learn, for example, what the point of the VSC is. Is it a prison? Apparently not, because Goreng volunteered to go in. A social research project? If so, its topic is never made clear. Instead, we get a steady stream of more or less awkward pseudo-political commentary. This probably climaxes in the scene where one of Goreng’s fellow inmates tries to climb up, only to be literally shat on by a resident higher up. They might as well have simply cut to a three-minute unbroken shot of lobsters in a bucket. It would achieve the same effect.
It wastes an intriguing set-up. and the design is effective as well, a brutalist style which could not be more overbearingly totalitarian if it was singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. In the repetitive locations, I was reminded very much of Cube, and a similar approach was taken in terms of construction here. Only two levels were actually created physically, with others created digitally or implied through clever switching of camera angles. [Curiously, the Spanish title translates as “The Hole”; not sure why the English title changes the focus to what fits into it] Massagué makes a decent hero: we watched this part because of his work as idiot savant Burbuja on El Barco, and it was interesting to see him playing a rather more normal person.
Though “normal” is relative in this world, where murder and cannibalism are survival traits. Things escalate as Goreng and final cellmate, Baharat (Buale) opt to descend, guarding the food to make sure everyone gets their share – by violent means, where necessary. Which is where things even stranger, as they guard a panna cotta dessert, which they intend to send to the VSC administrators as a message. Signifying what… Well, I presume a pile of sweetened cream thickened with gelatin means something. In the end, it all collapses like an overcooked soufflé under the weight of its own self-importance, and tastes considerably closer to fast-food than haute cuisine.