Food isn’t always good for the soul.
Food and horror seem to go together, especially when the genre focuses on class warfare. Surely, I’m not the only one who has noticed the glaring horror references in chef Gordon Ramsay’s new cooking competition show Next Level Chef. The reality show is obviously inspired by the 2019 Spanish horror film The Platform, right? In this futuristic nightmare, prisoners in vertical cells have to fight for food to survive. The fortunate inmates on the top gorge themselves with culinary delights while those below starve.
Next Level Chef‘s “original” premise has three levels of cooks where the competitors on the top level have the best choice of food and the levels below have to grab whatever’s left. Sound familiar? The banquet of ingredients is even placed directly in the middle of the room and then lowered down on hydraulics, identical to the food tray in The Platform.
What kind of sick game is Gordon Ramsay playing? Do these chef-testants realize that they’re all a part of some twisted mind game? Apparently, Ramsay has never heard of The Platform but he also said he’s never heard of Twitch.
Maybe TV’s top chef has seen some other gluttonous movies depicting the horrors of class warfare. If not, we’re here to make sure he’s aware of them. Maybe one of the films below will inspire his next sadistic cooking show (that my wife and I can’t stop watching).
The Exterminating Angel
Stuck in the surreal.
Luis Bunuel’s surrealist take on a dinner party has become a quintessential premise for the horror genre. The guests arrive and slowly realize they can’t leave. Bunuel’s 1962 masterpiece holds up a mirror to the affluent, showing just how quickly they can turn into animals. It’s a brilliant conceit showing just how long a group of contemporaries can stand being polite until they start to unravel. Inspired by Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit, the idea that “hell is other people” prevails in contemporary horror today with films like The Invitation and We Need to Do Something. The difference in class is hilariously depicted here, as well. While the rich drink their cocktails and mingle, the cook and waiters grab their coats and slip out the back. They escape before the wealthy even realize the severity of their situation.
Tom Hiddleston visits the top floor.
When British horror director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, In the Earth) started to force himself into the mainstream, a project like High-Rise starring Tom Hiddleston just felt like the right match. The hallucinatory and dangerous qualities of Wheatley’s films lend themselves well to a story about society’s breakdown inside of a massive apartment complex. Based on J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel from the seventies, Tom Hiddleston plays a man trapped in between floors (and classes) when all hell breaks loose. The nobility wearing powdered wigs on the top floor go to battle with the poor and middle class below until only a few remain. The meals go from opulent to truly inedible, especially when some characters have to resort to eating their own dogs. High-Rise didn’t appeal to the masses when it was released in 2015. But it’s one of Wheatley’s best and Hiddleston gives one of his most daring performances.
Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
When I first saw this striking short film at a film festival a few years back, I had no idea who Denis Villeneuve was. No one did. For their annual ritual, a group of elites gather around a grand dining table for an exotic Dionysian feast. In a disgusting display, they consume a continuous conveyer belt of exotic animals until the meal turns into torture. The weight of their bodies causes the entire floor to pancake down onto the levels below.
The musicians keep playing their instruments and the maître d’ gives a knowing nod to the camera, as if he knows something we don’t. Next Floor perfectly fit the times in 2008 right as the Great Recession hit. The themes of overconsumption and environmentalism are served up in a masterful example of the impact a short film can have. Villeneuve is still exploring these same ideas in Dune with the gluttony of the Harkonnens and their lust for the spice.
What’s for dinner? YOU.
An example of class-on-class warfare, Delicatessen is an early nineties classic. The exquisite minds of Jeunet and Caro (City of Lost Children) wrote and directed this absurdist, post-apocalyptic tale about the lives of the French lower class in a dilapidated apartment building. Unfortunately, the landlord is also a butcher who chops up the handyman and serves him up to the residents.
Dominique Pinon stars in many of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films but, arguably, he’s never been as delectable as he is in the role of Louison. A former circus clown, Louison falls in love with the landlord’s daughter, which may help him from becoming the next ingredient in the landlord’s famous stew. One sequence creates music out of the menial chores every tenant is doing on every floor, showing how harmonious life can be if we all stopped eating each other. Delicatessen takes the famous phrase “eat-the-rich” and shows us the flip side. The poor can be just as hungry.
Last but not least.
The Platform was largely considered one of the best horror films of 2019 because it offered the perfect mix of message and concept. Set in a futuristic prison, the idea of inmates forced to scrounge for food on a constantly descending slab is inherently inhumane. But the setting and the design of the prison make it feel like it exists in some far-off place, away from our own world. That allows us to escape while the inmates remain trapped in a vertical maze. Just like Squid Game captivated the globe, The Platform is another social experiment that tests how long the social contract will last in unimaginable circumstances. Whether they’re the lucky gluttons at the top or the lowly few starving at the bottom, when the prisoners do eat, it’s just as disgusting.