The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

Whatever you say about Clive Barker, you can’t argue that he hasn’t had a profound effect upon horror. You’re unlikely to find someone who doesn’t recognise the pointy head of the sadistic Pinhead, and no self-respecting slasher fan would be caught dead without having seen Candyman. Hell, even legendary horror author Stephen King hailed Barker as “the future of horror”. So with such a reputation in mind, can Barker’s latest adaptation stand above the crowd of generic Saw-clones that permeate recent cinema?

In Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train, Bradley Cooper plays Los Angelino photographer Doug, a character shunned by famed gallery owner Susan Hoff for taking photos regarded as empty and superficial, who becomes fixated on portraying in his work the true dark heart of his city. This inevitably leads him down into the subway, where he saves an attractive young model from a violent gang…an attractive young model that happens to go missing the very next day. In an effort to try and decipher what happened to her, Doug ventures down into the subway the next night and encounters a mysterious barrel-chested man. Certain that this man is the reason behind her disappearance, Doug descends slowly into obsession, jeopardising his relationship with his girlfriend, intent on snapping that one photograph that proves once and for all that his suspicions are founded.

It’s a shame, because for whatever reason, The Midnight Meat Train never got a mainstream cinematic release, instead being consigned to the shelves of DVD stores around the globe; and this outcome is very undeserved, for Ryuhei Kitamura has sculpted a darkly beautiful film. Kitamura, along with screenwriter Jeff Buhler, have crafted a film devoid of smart-talking villains or wise-cracking heroes; in fact, this is a film largely devoid of any form of humour at all, and it is all the better for it.

Vinnie Jones, playing the film’s antagonist, Mahogany, is wonderful at exuding a quiet sense of threat; emanating restrained menace entirely through body language without ever descending into overacting, and it’s certainly refreshing to see The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper playing a serious role. He plays the ‘nice guy’ very well; though his rapid plunge into insanity seems a little unbelievable at times. Mind you, I can’t claim to have seen any murders myself, so who am I to judge?

There’s plenty of fantastic blood and viscera for the gorehounds to lap up; though due to the film’s reliance upon CGI, it occasionally tends to come off as rather fake-looking and cartoonish. The practical effects, however, are superb; suitably icky and vomit-inducing.

I haven’t read the book, so unfortunately any of Clive Barker’s mythos that was uncharted by the film went over my head. That said, though, the film doesn’t seem to suffer tremendously from it; the narrative is largely coherent and the characters well-developed. However, where I feel a bit more back-story would be useful is in the last act; The Midnight Meat Train makes a rather unexpected twist that probably could have been hinted at a little more throughout the film. Still, if anything it keeps the audiences guessing and for that I’ll give it credit.

Kitamura has created quite an interesting little movie; providing enough gore to please the aficionados and yet still maintaining a level of psychological horror that draws the audience in to Doug’s dark obsession.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

2 Comments on “The Midnight Meat Train”

  1. ANTHONY says:

    The Midnight Meat Train — despite a great title — really does stink like month-old human flesh. Not one of Barkers best in my view and though Vinnie at last does make a screen impact as the villain slaying and flaying late-night subway commuters, I have to say that what starts as a suspenseful ’80s slasher template soon becomes a laughable fantasy/conspiracy. I was suprised by how much you enjoyed it. I saw it at The Berlin Film Fantasy Film Festival on it’s opening year and probably had too much expectation.

  2. Sarah Law says:

    See, I quite enjoyed Midnight Meat Train, although I agree with the fact that it had a strong start and then became a little confused as it approached the end. The tone seemed to change around halfway through but I think there were some solid performances and good use of gore (if you ignore the horribly stylised and unnecessary CGI blood) that just about saved it for me.

    I also loved some of the more interesting directorial quirks; the time lapse scene where Jones character sits on a bench in the train station was a particular standout.

    Certainly not Barkers’ finest work but it could have been a whole lot worse :)

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