A movie’s quality can range from perfect to trash, in my opinion, those two extremes are the most compelling; a perfect movie can change your life, your outlook on certain things, and provide an experience that you won’t forget and will stay with you for the rest of your days; a trash movie can shape your understanding of why you like movies, what parts you like and why you like them – looking at examples of a thing done correctly is fine, but looking at examples of a thing done wrong is even better. Obviously, there’s the in-between the two extremes that most movies fall into, but there are two “types” of movies that I exclude from this all-encompassing range: “so bad it’s good” and “great pitch” movies. The former is one of my favorite guilty pleasure, but the latter is the focus of this article, because when the execution is bad it is a frustrating experience that leads to the viewer feeling “cheated”. Lots of movies are mediocre to bad and all have potential that they don’t live up to, but “great pitch” movies are especially sore (when they are executed poorly) because the bar is set high by the concept and the drop feels so much greater than other movies; a great example of this is Security (2017) starring Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley. This is an enjoyable, action b-movie that is mostly mediocre and unremarkable that I found very disappointing when I saw it first, because I was sold on its pitch: What if Die Hard, but set in a mall?
Since Netflix got more heavily involved in making original movies for its subscription, they have been the kings of “great pitch” movies and they have been mostly miss rather than hit, and I saw two such movies that I wanted to talk about, starting with In the shadow of the moon, starring Boyd Holbrook and Michael C. Hall and directed by Jim Mickle of Cold in July fame. The pitch is “what if a pretty standard noir detective, but with time travel?” and that’s a compelling concept. The story is as follows: Locke is a rookie officer who tries to solve a series of murders which defy reasonable explanations. Problem is that the end result feels extremely ‘silly’ and inconsistent; you have Holbrook’s character starting out as a scrappy, go getter officer barging in on official investigations and getting a slap on the wrist, and ending up as visually identical to McConaughey’s present day character in True Detective, whose failures are slowly eating at him and destroying his life, while his all consuming obsession prevents him from fixing any of his problems. In a nutshell, that’s this movie’s problem: Tone. You have this buddy-cop comedy dynamic with Holbrook’s character and his partner, Nancy Drewing their way to a detective rank, and by the end this feels more like True Detective, while along the way the goofier and darker tone interchange in the spotlight; for example, in the final act, where Holbrook’s character is at his darkest and the story is trying to deal with some heavy material, they nonchalant give the reason for Holbrook’s obsession with catching the time-travelling killer which is to kill them so that “none of this ever happens…I saw the time travel movies, I know how this works”, which makes as much sense as Scooby Doo removing the mask behind a wacky ghost revealing his father and he starts verbally assaulting him and his mother, leaving suggestions of sexual abuse – there’s nothing wrong with movies wanting to deal with heavier subjects, but an important component of that is tone. Similarly, if Rust Cohle is in the middle of an existential monologue and Marty pops up in a Sisyphus costume and saying “well that’s the way the cookie crumbles!”, whose equivalent happens many times during the more light-hearted segments of the movie. If they had just picked a lane, a largely consistent tone – either light-hearted or dark – and emphasized on that, I think this could have been a rather neat and entertaining take on the genre, but as it is, it’s a disappointing and frustrating execution on a good concept, especially when you consider all the other neat ideas the filmmakers had that don’t work for largely the same reasons, such as having a character that we see throughout the years (the movie starts in 1988 and we see what happens, in relation to the case, every 9 years until the end).
The most recent example of this “type” of movie is The Platform, a Spanish thriller/horror movie, starring Ivan Massague and directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, and the pitch is as follows: In a vertical, seemingly infinite establishment, a platform with enough food for every person starts from the top and goes towards the bottom, which means that the people at the bottom will have to resort to other means in order to survive, but one man has had enough… If there is a way to get me interested in a movie, it’s by having social class dynamics be explored, and if a platform with enough food for everyone being mostly eaten by a select few while leaving everyone else is fighting for their scraps or each other for survival, isn’t enough to get me excited, then there is clearly something wrong with me; fortunately, I was very excited and eager to see this movie, but unfortunately, this is one of those movies with a very compelling concept and bad execution. The whole socio-economic class exploration is almost immediately thrown out of the window; the “selection” of who is at the top and at the bottom is completely random and constantly changing, which is fine for the plot, but as a socio-economic examination of our current society, this is a deal-breaker for me. Had it been a select few get to remain at the top because of who they know or how important they are and are too feared to have their fate be left up to chance, then the social criticism aspect could still have been salvaged, but the story seems more interested in other methods of delivering its content – mainly through dialogue and backstories of the characters. At its heart, The Platform is a movie about people talking, only punctuated by moments of “horror” – either gore, intentionally gross food and sound effects, disturbing actions, etc. – and those are my favorite moments of the movie; it’s by no means similar to Hostel or anything tasteless, and those moments create a genuine unease and sympathy for the protagonist and the messy situation he found himself in, while also making the characters who have been there longer seem more menacing and unpredictable. Problem is that those are moments of a movie and not the bulk of what is happening and what you are supposed to latch on to; the stars here are allegory and dialogue. For example, the first “roommate” of our protagonist is cold, pragmatic, and fierce, while the second is an altruistic, idealist who will follow the rules and ‘fight’ for the betterment of everyone’s position; if this isn’t apparent, this movie isn’t subtly working to create questions and connections in your head, it simply screams ALLEGORY. It’s extremely easy to come off pretentious if you do that, but The Platform is also extremely convoluted, to the point where I’m not sure what the primary theme of the movie is; is it commentary on society, religion, politics, all of the above? I don’t really care! Snowpiercer is a great example of how you do allegory properly (and a similar example in themes it touches on); I have many friends who never even thought of the social commentary that exist in Snowpiercer, because they wanted a good action film and nothing more. For me, I did go in expecting biting commentary on social class (because of Bong Joon-Ho’s filmography) but getting the messages and allegory was something I looked into, because the film is so engaging and fun that I just wanted to do that; it enhanced and furthered my enjoyment of the movie, but it was not necessary or preaching about it. Ultimately, The Platform is a great looking, pretentious mess of some great moments punching through mediocre dialogue and shaky execution of a good concept.
I’ve always maintained the opinion that if you want to learn about film-making and why you enjoy what you enjoy, an extremely beneficial aspect of that process is to watch everything you find interesting regardless of the perceived quality it has, because even a bad movie can teach you valuable lessons. In the shadow of the moon makes me appreciate movies like Midnight Special that handle adding elements to genre movies not traditionally there in a complete, coherent, and consistent way; The platform makes Snowpiercer’s brilliance and subtlety more understandable and can teach you how to create allegory and themes without compromising on fun and without becoming pretentious. My point being that, regardless of the critical or fan reception a movie has, it should still be judged by you; if it disappoints, frustrates, or underwhelms based on your preferences, then that experience is not necessarily worthless, as it can inform your future choices. No one is going to make a perfect movie from their first attempt, or keep making masterpieces, or will even attempt to make something revolutionary or important, but every movie has something worthwhile to teach you, at the very least.