Written by: Paula Haifley, CC2K Horror Chick
Oh. My. Fucking. God. I feel so sorry for you guys. I feel bad because I got to go to a super secret screening of Midnight Meat Train last night, and all of you have to wait until August to see it.
There has been a lot of horror released by the studios lately, and I like to complain that even though there is tons of stuff being released, it is all either shitty or, worse, shitty and PG-13. I always bemoan the lack of horror films for the true fan, films that treat the audience like they are intelligent adults who want to be shocked, scared, and entertained. Midnight Meat Train is the film that the adult horror fan has been waiting for. It is the only studio film since The Descent that has made me stand up and say, this is how a horror film should be.
Midnight Meat Train is based on a short story by Clive Barker, and while it is not as crazy out-there as a lot of his stories are, the film still retains that Barker flavor. People who have never read him will enjoy it, and his fans will have that moment of “a ha! That was just what I was waiting for,” half way through the film.
This Barker gore-fest is about Leon (Bradley Cooper, Sydney’s hot best friend on Alias), a photographer poised to enter the big time art world. When an influential gallery owner (Brooke Shields) tells him that he needs to get out there into the city and really capture its grit, he grabs his camera and goes for a stroll in the middle of the night. He photographs, then stops an attack on a famous model (Nora), and snaps her as she is getting on the subway. The next morning, he sees in the paper that she has gone missing. When Leon goes out again the next night, he photographs the taciturn, really fucking scary Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), and by following him, Leon starts to fall into the mystery of all of the people that have gone missing in New York over the past few years. As he becomes more and more obsessed, his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) tries to pull him out of his investigation, but, naturally, she is pulled into it as well.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura (who has made a slew of Japanese horror and action films) did an excellent job of creating this unique urban environment and infusing it with dread. The subway stations, which were almost a character in themselves, were steel and sterile and bright, like a giant morgue, while the city around them was dirty and gritty. The gore was really good, even though some of it was digital (which I usually hate), and there were scenes that even made this horror chick cringe a bit. I overheard the producer saying that a lot of gore was cut out, so we can expect a much gorier (and therefore much awesomer) unrated DVD. There were eyeball gouges, teeth pulls, and one character’s tongue even gets ripped out… then eaten. Oh, the irony.
I cannot imagine anyone else having played Mahogany except Vinnie Jones. He’s a big, intimidating guy anyway, but this film gave him the chance to be truly terrifying. You wouldn’t think that the man who holds the English football record for getting a penalty the quickest (five seconds into the game) could get any more intimidating, but Jones manages to do it.
As good as violence, the gore, and the setting were, Bradley Cooper’s performance as an artist on the edge of madness, and Leslie Bibb’s as the woman trying to hold him back from it, was really what drove the story. One of the few criticisms of the film that I have was the descent of Bibb’s character from the strong woman love interest into the "putting herself in a stupid situation, screaming and falling down" love interest. The motivation that screenwriter Jeff Buhler gives for this transformation is all right on paper, but once you actually see Maya doing these things, what was (for once) a strong female character becomes just another chick that the hero has to rescue, and Bibb is too good of an actress to be relegated to that role.
The other problem I had with the film was the visual effects. I can see why a bit of the gore was done this way (most of the effects were practical, thank goodness), because doing it practically and not hurting the actors would have been challenging. But why does the camera have to keep swooping out of the subway train, where the action is, to show the outside of the train, which is now all VFX, as it speeds down the tunnel? Once is enough, any audience member will get that all of these murder trains are running on a different track after the see it the first time or two.
I also found the camera work during the penultimate showdown between Cooper and Jones a little too shaky. When are directors going to get that this shaky footage pulls you out of the fight instead of making it more visceral? I know that I am a girl, but I still like to actually see two grown men beat the shit out of each other in my films, whether they are action, horror, or romantic comedy. I don’t like to see two guys fighting in a bunch of tight, shaky shots that make me have to stop and think enough to miss the next thing that happens. I know that this sequence is where a lot of the excess gore was cut out, and it is not as bad many so-called action scenes are today, but I still got a little confused in a couple of spots.
Those two bits aside, Midnight Meat Train was balls-to-the-wall kick-ass. I recommend that everyone see this film the weekend that it comes out (and I will keep you up-to-date on release info) and vote with their wallets for more gory, shocking, R-rated horror films. If we, as horror fans, spend our money in the right time on the films that are truly worth seeing, we can get the studios to make more films like this, films that are truly worthy of being called a horror fan’s horror film.
Midnight Meat Train is set for an Aug. 1 release.