Released in 2019, “El hoyo” is a Spanish horror and science fiction film that has garnered enormous success among international audiences. Crafted by director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, this Netflix original production captivates viewers with its disturbing portrayal of a dystopian reality filled with multiple layers of reflection.
A Deep Dive into “El hoyo”
Attention: Spoiler Alert!
Engaging, heavy, and thought-provoking, “El hoyo” offers subtle hints and unanswered questions that the viewer must carefully navigate. The premise is simple yet terrifying: the protagonist, Goreng, finds himself in a vertically structured prison, with two inmates per level and a massive rectangular hole in the center. Each day, a platform descends carrying a lavish feast filled with the finest delicacies.
The individuals on the first level have the privilege of dining first. As time passes, the platform descends to the subsequent levels, ensuring everyone gets a chance to eat. This ritual repeats across countless levels, forcing individuals to consume the leftovers of those above. In this world, food is the only currency for survival.
Interestingly, the characters’ names have culinary references. For instance, Goreng is the name of a recipe from Indonesia, Malaya, and Singapore, while Barahat refers to a blend of Arab spices.
As we follow the protagonists’ struggle to survive, we also uncover various symbols and sociopolitical critiques.
A Profound Metaphor on Class Division
“Eat or be eaten”
Goreng’s first companion in the prison is Trimagasi, an elderly man who has spent a long time in the hole and explains how things work. He maintains strict distance from others, emphasizing the need for self-preservation: it’s a matter of “eat or be eaten.”
This man, who has gone mad due to the consumerist society, confronts the situation with absolute normality (to him, everything is “obvious”). Trimagasi chooses to carry a self-sharpening knife, a tool for attacking and defending himself at all costs. Through his treatment of those below, Trimagasi reveals the isolating nature of the system, where everyone is alone and pitted against each other.
“Eating can be easy or difficult, depending on your class…”
The established hierarchy implies that levels don’t communicate or collaborate with each other; those below don’t speak to those above, and vice versa. The system seems designed to isolate individuals, preventing organized or collective action.
From the beginning of the film, viewers witness the stark contrast between the excessively luxurious, pristine kitchens and the miserable existence in the hole. The scene where we witness the banquet being consumed and devoured as it descends is a stark representation of the scarcity caused by the excesses of those at the top of the hierarchy.
Desperation drives people to become killers, as those at the bottom are forced to kill and resort to cannibalism as a last resort for survival.
Almost being devoured by Trimagasi, Goreng awakens on level 171. He is forced to eat the flesh of his former companion, Trimagasi, until Imogiri, his new cellmate, changes the narrative.
Imogiri, who formerly worked for the administration and volunteered for the “experience,” attempts to disrupt the system by dividing the food into portions. She believes in “spontaneous solidarity,” but her efforts are met with mockery and insults for days.
Frustrated, Goreng compels the lower levels to comply by threatening to spread feces on the food whenever the platform passes their level: “Solidarity or shit!”
Descend to Ascend
However, everything changes with the arrival of Baharat, their third cellmate. A believer in God and filled with hope, Baharat embraces Goreng’s plan to take control of the platform and redistribute the food.
It is through unity and collective action that the prisoners manage to disrupt the order and send a message to those at the top. The message is to return the panna cotta to level zero.
Religious Themes and Symbolism
Religion permeates the film beyond Baharat’s references to the prison as Hell. Paying attention, viewers will discover several biblical allusions throughout the narrative. Trimagasi questions Goreng early on, asking, “Do you believe in God?” Later, Imogiri hints at the possibility of having a mission within the prison. After her suicide, Goreng sees (or hallucinates) her spirit, which identifies him as “the Messiah” or “the savior” who will set them free.
Goreng also references the sacrifice of Jesus when he asks his companion to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Baharat, who joins Goreng on a suicide mission, is also seeking salvation.
The numbering of levels is not coincidental. For example, level 333, where the two heroes encounter the girl, could be a reference to Jesus’ age when he died. Additionally, with 666 levels, “El hoyo” could be associated with the Devil.
Connection to “Don Quijote de la Mancha”
When given the opportunity to bring an item into the hole, Goreng chooses a copy of “Don Quijote de la Mancha,” one of the most important works in Spanish literature.
Enchanted by knight-errant tales, the famous character Don Quijote was obsessed with defeating villains and upholding justice. His delusions of changing the world made Don Quijote a symbol of dreamers and madmen, which seems to inspire Goreng in some way.
When Goreng first reveals his plan to Baharat, his companion responds, “Only a fool would do that.” Desperation, perhaps fueled by a dose of madness, is what drives them to achieve what no one else has.
Decoding the Ending of “El hoyo”
To fully grasp this film, it is crucial to analyze the ending, which leaves many viewers perplexed. Trapped in this dystopian prison, where each level has its assigned residents, Goreng encounters a figure who breaks the rules: Miharu.
Miharu is a savage murderer who uses the platform to navigate the prison in search of her presumed daughter. Goreng tries to help her, and in return, she saves his life from the grasps of Trimagasi.
For a long time, viewers are led to believe that Miharu is insane and that there is no child within the facility because it would be impossible for a child to survive there. However, as Goreng and Baharat approach the bottom of the hole during their rebellion plan, they discover the hidden girl and halt their progress to help her. After the death of his companion, Goreng continues the journey with Miharu’s daughter.
When the platform reaches the bottom, Goreng finally realizes that the message he needed to convey to the top was not the untouched panna cotta or words about what he witnessed in the hole. The true message, one that could truly change everything, was the existence of the girl he just rescued. A life capable of being born and thriving in a place of death becomes a symbol of hope and a potential seed for transformation.
Witnessing that he no longer needs to carry the message himself, as the existence of the girl speaks for itself, Goreng sees Trimagasi’s spirit, who announces that his mission is over. The two depart together as the platform ascends, carrying the girl back to level zero.
While it could be concluded that the hero dies after fulfilling his mission, it remains uncertain whether the arrival of the girl at the top has changed anything or not.
“El hoyo” is a captivating Spanish film that pushes the boundaries of horror and science fiction. Through its powerful metaphors, religious themes, and thought-provoking symbolism, the film provokes deep reflection on class division, solidarity, and the potential for transformation.
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