The Birthday Series – The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Just a quick recap. I’m counting down to my birthday by reviewing one movie that was released on or around August 2nd for every year I’ve been a skidmark on earths undies. Today I give you 2008. Enjoy or bugger off.
This movie doesn’t make a lick of sense. But it’s done in such a blatantly schlocky tone that it doesn’t really matter. After my intense dislike of my 2009 birthday film, the TP horror ‘The Collector’, I was dismayed to see what 2008 had in store for me. Another unseen horror film, but this time starring someone I recognised. Alas, that someone was the man with the most punchable face in Hollywood, Bradley Cooper. But rules are rules, and my other options weren’t exactly enticing. The Mummy 3 with it’s touchdown dancing abominable snowmen, or Swing Vote, a mildly pleasant comedy starring Kevin Costner. I’ve seen Swing Vote, and have no real interest in seeing it again, let alone trying to write anything of length about it. So, that leaves the charmingly titled ‘The Midnight Meat Train’.
Lets see if I can piece together a plot description. Leon (Bradley Cooper) is a freelance photographer, trying to break into the snooty art world of Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields). She sees potential but advises him to be more bold and put himself in more dangerous situations to capture some real drama in his photographs. Following her advice one night, he confronts a group of wiggedy whack homeboys who are assaulting a young woman at a metro station. After some macho posturing and a manly nose to nose stare-off, the youths depart and he sees her safely onto the late night train, but the following day he sees a story about her disappearance in the newspaper. He has questions, but doesn’t ask the main one I had which is how an article about a woman who disappeared at around 2am managed to make its way into the mornings newspaper? Being an inquisitive chap, Leon decides to hang out across the road from the station, which is where he first spies Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) and decides to follow him for no other reason than the screenplay demands it. He learns there’s a whole lot of butchering going down on the Midnight Meat Train, which is actually the “After two train” but that doesn’t have the same ring to it I suppose. Anyway, Leon sees that every night when the train empites out, Mahogony walks along the length of the train bludgeoning unsuspecting passengers with a mallet. To what end does he do this? Where do the bodies go? How do all these people go missing every night and no one questions it? And what is it about Bradley Cooper that makes me want to punch him repeatedly in the face?
To be quite fair to the bloke, I actually didn’t mind Cooper in this film. Particularly in the first half when his character actually makes a little sense. He develops a somewhat believable relationship (for horror movie standards) with his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb), and dials down the smugness to such a degree that my first instinct wasn’t to pummel his face with my fists. It’s a decent performance, which was one of the films more pleasant surprises. Bibb as the girlfriend is quite good as well, and Jones is his usual intimidating presence. I ask you, has anyone made more money with less talent than Vinnie Jones? His career stretching back to football is entirely built on the fact that he looks like he’d bash your head in as soon as look at you. This is not a knock against the guy (believe me, Vinnie, it isn’t), as I have no idea what he’s like in real life. He is quite likely a canny operator who is playing his part as a real life tough guy and that’s his schtick. Whatever the answer, he’s terrifyingly intimidating and not someone I’d like to see bearing down on me with a meat cleaver on a late night train.
Based on a short story by Clive Barker, and adapted by Jeff Buhler, ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ doesn’t really make too much sense (as I said earlier). The whole concept of a late night train where the passengers get butchered and served up to tunnel dwelling beasties every night is complete and utter garbage. But in it’s tone, the film sidesteps this by letting the audience know how absurd it is. A lot of this has to do with the kills. The victims (and there are many of them) in this film get dispatched in such amusingly absurd ways that you can’t help but chuckle and let slide your misgivings. The main characters of Leon and his girlfriend Maya are simply, but effectively drawn. We like them as a couple, because we believe they like each other. They are the reason the film works as well as it does.
The film is slickly directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, a Japanese director who I have never heard of before. It looks great, with the bold, metallic silver of the train and the implements of bodily harm being accentuated against the deep black of the background. It’s cleverly done. Our eye is automatically drawn to the silver and we immediately know it’s a threat. The way the kills are filmed are amusingly inventive. Kitamura employs first person perspective, super slow motion and sudden jolts of violence to keep things interesting. But it is at this point that I would like to raise the issue of CGI blood. I know it’s been raised as an issue before, but this is the first film I’ve watched where it’s irritatingly noticeable. It doesn’t look real, which effects our ability to suspend disbelief and stay in the moment, which is imperative for a horror film. Sure, you can do amusing things like have the victims reflection looking back at the camera in a pool of blood, but it’s breaks the tension and simply shows us an interesting effect. Nothing more. There really isn’t any reason that most of the CGI effects in this film couldn’t have been practical. I can’t imagine that CGI is cheaper, so I don’t know why they went that way.
‘The Midnight Meat Train’ is an amusing diversion. It’s not particularly scary, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it does achieve the lofty realm of ‘entertainment’. It’s fun, and after feeling used and abused by horror films like ‘The Collector’, it’s welcome.
Cheers for helping me celebrate my 2008 birthday. It was merely okay, not as bad as I expected, but it won’t be one that lasts long in the memory. Now take your bag of lollies and fuck off.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!