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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “The Platform,” Frank Ocean, and more

Apr. 8, 2020
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Watch: Vivarium (2020, dir. Lorcan Finnegan)

Art imitates life, but in the case of Vivarium, it’s the other way around. This claustrophobic sci-fi horror premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but there’s no better (or worse?) time to watch it than now. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star as a young couple in search of a home who find themselves stuck in an inescapable suburban hell. We watch them unravel as they search for a way out and try to take care of a sub-human, mysteriously conceived infant who came in a box that said “Raise it, then be released.”

The film was slated for a late March theatrical release, but with orders to stay home amid the health crisis, it was released through video on demand, which, needless to say, ups its impact. “It’s very strange, very surreal, and weirdly creepy,” director Lorcan Finnegan said in conversation with Los Angeles Times. “People have been messaging me saying that they loved it and the experience was more intense with what’s going on outside.” 

But had it been released outside this quarantine period, the response wouldn’t have been different. Vivarium is the kind of horror that doesn’t feed on fright, but dread—its characters are smart and the film knows its audience is too, so it skips the cheap tricks and dives straight under your skin. If I wasn’t stuck in one place myself I would’ve joked that this movie is exactly what it feels like to be a teenager in suburbia.

Finnegan said the movie was actually inspired by Ireland’s housing boom and the subsequent economic crash in 2008. Massive housing developments were left empty, and those who did live there couldn’t move elsewhere because they were unable to sell their houses—leaving them trapped. Talking about the villainous real estate agent in the film, he said, “[The] agent is representative of the kind of capitalist greed and conformity where they just give people what it appears that they want. They give people a house and garden but they have no ability to understand humanity or the emotional needs of people.”

Vivarium is available on digital now.

Listen: “Dear April” and “Cayendo” by Frank Ocean

The ever elusive Frank Ocean saw us sulking in our beds all day and decided to provide the appropriate soundtrack to fit the collective mood. First heard in the R&B singer’s queer club nights late last year and in various versions that circulated online, “Dear April” and “Cayendo,” this time in acoustic, have officially hit streaming services. 

You don’t need to be an avid follower to know Ocean is essentially a magical music wizard who’s rarely seen outside (truly an icon relevant to the times) and only resurfaces to release music that, for lack of a more apt description, is so, so good. While it’s easy to develop an aversion to his music because he always seems to be the favorite artist of all your half-boring Bumble matches with nothing to offer but red flags, take my word for it: so, so good.

These two new singles, like much of Ocean’s discography, are thick with emotion, both lyrically and sonically. “Acoustic” almost doesn’t feel right—if listening to the acoustic version of “Dear April” already felt like there was an orchestra behind me, I can’t even begin to fathom how the official track would play out. Of course the acoustics are just one of the versions: the B-side contains the Justice remix of "Dear April" and the Sango remix of “Cayendo,” which is only available on vinyl. But in these trying times, I’ll take whatever Frank I can get.

Stream “Dear April” and “Cayendo” on Spotify here.

Watch: The Platform (2020, dir. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia)

Last year there was a resounding theme in cinema: from the niche horror-comedy Ready or Not to the star-studded Knives Out, and of course the Academy Award-winning Parasite, moviegoers were told, time and time again, to eat the rich. It continues this year with the exceptionally less subtle The Platform.

In this vertical Snowpiercer, inmates housed in a multi-level tower get their food from a singular platform that goes through each floor without getting refilled. Naturally disorder ensues: people in the lower levels starve, and while inmates do switch levels monthly, their experience with running out of food only magnifies their greed when they get placed higher.

The film’s messaging is in-your-face—of course if you wish to successfully conduct a thought experiment on the sociopolitical effects of capitalism in a deeply capitalist world, subtlety may not be effective enough. It’s a close inspection of capitalism and how, when it’s boxed and made micro—placed in a multi-level tower devoid of external forces, like a controlled experiment—it becomes clearer how it’s inherently ineffective. One can argue that it’s greed that breeds inequality, but in the cases of the inmates, it’s the inequality they’re subjected to that breeds their greed. Inmates who find themselves in higher levels refuse to ration despite persuasion because they’d just come from a lower level with little left to eat. 

What’s most fascinating about this movie—and what keeps you glued to the screen despite the bleak premise—is how the inmates try to solve their problem. Perhaps it presents too ambiguous a solution to try and apply in the real world, but this prescient meditation on the class system is still a must-watch especially during a time when it’s so clear that access to food, like everything else in a capitalist world, is heavily dependent on class. 

The Platform is streaming on Netflix now.