If you're a fan of horror films then it is very likely you've followed the progress of Midnight Meat Train, the first of Clive Barker's new series of films based off his Books of Blood, a collection of macabre, disturbing and downright bizarre short stories. A change in producers at production company, Lionsgate saw the film pulled from being a major release and put into only a hundred dollar-theatres across America. This was a major blow to horror fans fed up with constant remakes and the endless gorenography films, especially to foreign fans who worried the film would never make it to cinemas at all. Well, there may be a light at the end of a tunnel, and it's not a train. The Midnight Meat Train got a special screening at the London horror film festival, FrightFest on August 23rd where it was announced the film was getting a lot of support from foreign distributors, so there's still hope for British horror fans to see it on the big screen, where it belongs.
The question now becomes, is it worth it? This reviewer would, without a doubt, say the answer is yes. The story sees photographer Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper, Alias) attempting to capture the dark underside of the city, encouraged by Gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields, That 70's Show). However, he soon crosses paths with a mysterious butcher, Mahogany (Vinnie Jones, X-Men: The Last Stand), who stalks the subways late at night, slaughtering those unfortunately enough to ride the wrong train. Leon becomes increasingly obsessed with uncovering the mystery behind the killer, his relationship with his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb, Iron Man), suffering as he becomes involved deeper and deeper in a grotesque conspiracy.
As with Barker's short story, the film manages to balance well-written character, grotesque violence and intriguing ideas. This is no film for the squeamish, from the very beginning blood flows freely and copiously. Gorehounds have a lot to get their teeth into, although there are a few moments of CG blood-letting that are perhaps a little too over the top and not entirely realistic. Watched with the FrightFest crowd, however, even these moments were met with cheers of delight and it's not difficult to see why. As a face explodes outwards in slow motion, blood showing down, the sheer indulgence of the event is clear, and is bound to warm the heart of any dedicated horror fan.
This is not to say the film is shallow, quite the opposite. As the title suggests, meat plays a vital role in the story, and there's a strong thematic thread throughout the movie. The major locations of the film are tied together, a meat packing planet, the subway train, a diner, by the cooked or prepared flesh on offer. Leon, a dedicated vegetarian, does not come out unscathed, as if the mere presence of so much meat if brining out a bestial side, perhaps most notable in a sex scene that starts romantically but suddenly descends into a darker, more violent sequence.
Midnight Meat Train is the Hollywood debut of Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi) and he doesn't disappoint, grabbing the opportunity to create a unique visual style for the film. He perhaps seems an unusual choice for such a straight horror film, but it's a gamble that rewards the viewer with a highly kinetic and stylish experience. A climatic fight on a moving subway train sees the camera swing all the way round the car, in and out of the windows, as the combatants appear to destroy it around them. His eye for detail, and creative use of the camera makes even the slower scenes have an interesting visual quality but in the violent and horrific sequences, Kitamura excels.
Although I won't spoil the ending here, I will say it's simultaneously faithful to the short story but also very much scaled down. It's perhaps a shame they weren't a little braver in presenting some of the big ideas Barker had originally written, and if a little more time had been spent on the revelations, it may have felt a little less abrupt. The balance is important though, and the film tells its story in a way that shouldn't confuse new viewers or threaten a mainstream audience unused to the surreal horror Barker often revels in.
The Midnight Meat Train is an excellent modern horror film, with a exotic mixture of violence, scares, interesting characters and a fascinating storyline. Whilst at times the use of CGI or the rushed explanations threaten to remove some of the horror, the film retains its hold on the viewer with stylish cinematography and intelligently explored themes. This is one train any horror fan ought to catch.
SCORE: 5 out of 5 Hooks