Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October 8th: The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

I promised a review of Midnight Meat Train months ago, and by God, I keep my promises, albeit two months late. Sorry. It's a shame the movie's being dumped like this. I think this could've had a fair shot at box office success. Instead it was dumped into about 100 second-run theaters around the country in August, and now two months, later, it's available for free on digital cable.

Anyways... the film, written by Clive Barker and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Godzilla: Final Wars), follows a photographer named Leon (Bradley Cooper) as he trails and takes pictures of the various people he encounters on the subway. If not for his interest in photography, the hobby would veer dangerously close to stalking. After one of his subjects goes missing, he begins following a shady character named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones, who needs more roles like ths), who is, in fact, murdering the nighttime commuters on the subway.

Just from that plot description, this movie seems like a sister story to the video game Dead Rising (in which a similar photographer is trapped in a shopping mall as he attempts to get to the bottom of a zombie outbreak). Director Kitamura shoots the film in a constant, very high contrast. The shades are black, and the shadows are blacker. All the flourescent lighting of the subway trains and tunnels give the movie a sickly, greenish tint, which makes all the blood splatters that much sicker. This works for the subway sequences, but during the day, when Leon and his fiancee (Leslie Bibb) are discussing the plot, it's nearly impossible to see what's going on. This is almost certainly by design, but it just doesn't work. What's the point in revealing details if we can't even see them right in front of us?

It's a slasher flick that acts like the best of the 80s genre, but looks and feels like all the rest of the garbage that tries to pass for horror these days. The plot and the hook (heh) are both great, but the execution just doesn't ever gel the way it should. The slow beginning is more than made up for by a very strong middle section with some decent, gory scares.

The way Barker and Kitamura parse out the scares is interesting, if not problematic. The film has a very stop/start, staccato approach to its scares. There are a couple of sections where they pile on the freaky, gory moments for what feels like a good 10 minutes of the running time apiece. Then, the horror takes a back seat to the plot, which will toss in a "Boo!" moment here and there just to keep you on your toes. Once you get into one rhythm, the other kicks in. It's very jarring.

Overall, the film is at least consistently interesting. They wisely don't pile on the gore or turn it into another in an already too long line of terrible torture porn films. While I genereally dislike the look of the film, the script at least moves at a decent clip. It never gets boring, and as the film barrels toward it's ultimate twist, it's anyone's guess where things might end up. Speaking of the ending, I certainly didn't see it coming, but it gives the movie a bit of a fun edge to it. Going into the ending, I was going to rate this movie lower. I gotta say, the twist worked for me. So if you're willing to indulge Midnight Meat Train it's one final, wacky excess, I think you'll enjoy what it has to offer.

3.5 stars (***1/2) out of five.

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