Sunday, July 19, 2009

As If the Subway System Wasn't Horrible Enough, Now There's ...

If you’ve followed news in the horror world last summer, you may recall the release drama of The Midnight Meat Train. Produced by Lions Gate and based on a Clive Barker short story, this film was intended for a full theatrical release before being yanked for less-than-desired showings in a handful of dollar theaters across the States. Barker barked and horror devotees complained. Saw V and The Strangers took the blame. Was this another case of shafting original horror to showcase easy money sequels and remakes?

It pains me to say this, but The Midnight Meat Train is not the long lost gem we hoped for. It’s skillfully made by director Ryuhei Kitamura, with clean visuals and more than adequate performances. The basic plot and setting offer oodles of potential. And yet, for the entire running time, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with everything that was and wasn’t onscreen.

Quick Plot: In an unnamed city, struggling vegetarian photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) learns from the wisdom of famed art dealer Brooke Shields that in order to break out, he needs to take pictures of truly disturbing content without turning away. She knows this, of course, because of her early experiences with the famed Basquiat (we knew Shields was a child star and went to Princeton, but did you also know she also discovered one of NY’s greatest street artists when she was an adventurous 14 year old?).

Leon takes her advice and hits the streets, focusing mainly on the immaculately clean subway. As luck would have it, a few thugs are attempting to rape a pretty young woman right in perfect view of Leon’s non digital camera (and the very conveniently placed security CCTV). Leon has his shot and the woman is on her way to a conveniently patient late night train. The next day, Leon discovers a newspaper story chronicling her disappearance. A visit to the cops involves weird double speak and somehow inspires Leon on a vigilante mission to uncover this mystery, much to the chagrin of his far too understanding girlfriend.

Enter the Forrest Gumpish Vinnie Jones as the best dressed serial killer in mass transit. Sadly, he’s also the blandest, wearing a dull scowl that couldn’t be farther from the charismatic psychopath of The Condemned or even his supporting work in X-Men 3.

Deep sigh.

The Midnight Meat Train is not the worst film you’ll see, but I found it to be an incredibly disheartening film experience. 103 minutes isn’t long, but when extended stretches are devoted to empty montages, it feels like eternity (sort of the difference between an express and local train). The title calls back to something gritty and mean, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the film’s primary problem is just how clean it is. I’ve never seen a subway that shines with such regularly applied stainless steel cleaner and the digitalized gore is so noticeably unreal, none of the violence lands until the very last scene. By then, it’s a little too late to reinvest.

High Points
Surprisingly enough, the romance between Cooper and Leslie Bibb is quite believable and affectionate, providing a solid emotional base for the finale to land

Low Points
...but the fully clothed sex scene is supposed to do what exactly?

Cooper is fine enough as Leon, but his insanely fast slide into insanity? obsession? paranoia? is so messily done that it’s hard to really want to follow him on his increasingly dumb endeavors underground

Early in the film, Leon talks about how he pulls so much inspiration from the big bad city. That’s fine and mood-setting, but it would certainly help if the city WE see wasn’t drenched in shiny blue coloring. Of course, we could also SEE the city rather than the ridiculously clean metro and one friendly steakhouse

Until the last act, there is nothing actually frightening happening. We don’t know any of the victims, so seeing an extra or two sitting on a train and then get chopped up by a computer effect simply has no emotional impact

Lessons Learned
The only way to survive an encounter with Vinnie Jones is to first sell him candy

Searching for keywords on microfiche is much easier and faster than using Google

Never assist your friends in breaking into a rundown motel where a homicidal butcher allegedly lives; the consequences are just not fun

Bloody floors are incredibly slippery

I really wanted to like this movie but as seen in my extensive low points, that’s far too difficult to do. The performances are better than average and the final scene does start to get interesting, but the coldly empty blood and story inanity is just not enjoyable. How, for example, would any city’s subway system still be functioning if multiple straphangers disappear EVERY SINGLE NIGHT? I’m not one to nitpick plot details, but when the core concept seems so unruly, it just makes everything else that much more glaringly careless. That being said, those of you with a genuine interest in visual design of modern horror may find this particular approach interesting. It’s different and definitely made by someone with artistic vision; I just don’t think that style fits the nature of this film in the least.


  1. Wow...a fully clothed sex scene? That's brave.

    Based on your review, I'm thinking this is a renter.

    Great site -- glad I found it!

  2. Let me know what you think of it, Billy. I was quite disappointed, but the visual design is interesting enough and the latest It Boy Bradley Cooper gives a decent performance. Thanks for the comment!