Written by: Jeff Buhler (screenplay) & Clive Barker (short story)
Directed by: Ryűhei Kitamura
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, and Brooke Shields
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Step away from the meat."
Last year, there was perhaps no horror movie that was as infamous as The Midnight Meat Train; not bad for a film that barely snuck its way into dollar theaters across the nation with little to no fanfare. After receiving a decent amount of buzz among horror circles early in the year (mostly due to its status as a Clive Barker adaptation), Lion's Gate toyed with audiences by delaying the film multiple times before unceremoniously dumping it to the dollar theater circuit in one of the most bizarre release patterns that I can ever remember. The film actually managed to come to a town in my backwoods state, but I didn't find out until it was too late. Now, more than a year after I initially saw the trailer in front of Rambo, The Midnight Meat Train has arrived on home video.
The film begins with an unnamed man finding himself on a blood-drenched subway car, witnessing a strange man hacking up a body. We are then introduced to our protagonist, Leon, a struggling photographer who captures the city's seedier, nocturnal side. One night, Leon happens to follow a gang of thugs into the subway system and prevents them from harassing a girl, who subsequently boards the subway, only to meet her brutal demise at the hands of a mysterious stranger. The woman ends up being a model whose disappearance intrigues Leon and eventually leads him to investigate the stranger, who happens to be a butcher named Mahogany. Before long, Leon is drawn into a destructive obsession that leads him to the heart of a century-long conspiracy, much to the dismay of his friends and fiance, Maya.
After all the hype, Midnight Meat Train only chugs its way to disappointment. This is not to say that the film is terrible (it certainly isn't); however, it is quite mediocre and doesn't deliver much beyond the gore sequences, most of which are hindered by some poor CGI special effects. Furthermore, Kitamura's direction is a bit too slick and not visceral enough, as the blood splatters freely in a somewhat cartoonish fashion. While the film does have an otherworldly, almost dreamlike atmospheric quality, I would have liked the death sequences to feel a bit more raw and gritty. That said, there are some rather stunning sequences, including a decapitation from the perspective of the victim, which is a new experience.
Lest I appear to be one of those viewers that seemingly didn't "get" the film by only focusing on the gore, let me discuss the supposed underpinnings that should have added weight to the film. Thematically, the story is steeped in the destructiveness of obsession (a Barker hallmark), with Leon and Maya's relationship playing a key role; however, I didn't particularly care for either character, which really weakens the film's effectiveness. Neither character is brought to life by particularly strong acting, and both are outclassed by Vinnie Jones, who only speaks one (very predictable) line. However, Jones is certainly one bright spot here, as he brings Mahogany to cold, calculating life; interestingly enough, Jones is able to project more gravitas and emotion than anyone else in the film.
And really, it seems like the entire film seems to be treading on familiar ground, despite the unique premise. Though the film takes a hard left turn in the final fifteen minutes, it's still quite easy to predict where the film is headed. Indeed, the entire film just feels a bit soulless, and even though Kitamura's direction is very slick, the film just ends up a bit sterile. Even the film's look is cast in a cold, unemotional color palette; I suspect that this was intended to mirror the film's overall feeling of detachment, but it ultimately just renders the film a bit bland. In the end, I can't say that I really regret missing this one in theaters, as it certainly didn't live up to the hype. The gore sequences are nice, but I just wish there was a reason for me to care about anything going on in this film.
For those who want to hop aboard the Midnight express, Lion's Gate has brought the film home in unrated fashion on both DVD and Blu-ray. I opted to simply check out the DVD due to the lack of BD availability (which reflects just how desperately I wanted to check this one out), and the transfer is pretty strong. Like I said, the entire movie looks rather sterile, so the transfer isn't going to be eye-popping. The 5.1 surround track is excellent, however, with low, booming bass and nice, immersive surround effects. The DVD also has a host of special features, including a commentary with Clive Barker and director Kitamura; there's also a featurette dedicated to Barker, as well as a featurette on the character of Mahogany. There's also a short documentary detailing the making of one of the film's murder sequences as well. I truly wanted to enjoy The Midnight Meat Train; however, I was disappointed to find that it's essentially a film featuring a string of murders that's barely held together by some weak character drama. As such, this is one train you only need to ride once. Rent it!
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