|The Midnight Meat Train ,
2008. Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura. Bradley Kooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields, Tony Curran, Barbara Eve Harris.
Synopsis: Leon is a photographer attempting to step up in the world. He's tired of snapping pictures for the tabloids; he wants to show his work in the gallery of hoity toity art dealer Susan Hoff, who tells him that he's got a good start, but that he needs to go further. There's something missing in his work. It lacks an instinct for the jugular. In search of new material that will cut the mustard, Leon photographs three young men in the act of harrassing a woman in a subway station. The next day, he finds that the woman has disappeared, and that he may have a clue to his disappearance. Investigating further leads him to a butcher who rides the late train every night, where he murders unsuspecting passengers on the way to an unknown, abandoned station. But the butcher is only the tip of the iceberg, Leon discovers. Who does he serve? To his horror, Leon finds out more than he ever wanted to know...
Commentary: The Midnight Meat Train is probably more famous for its troubled release than it is for its actual qualities as a movie. A victim of one of those internal studio power struggles, it found itself ignominiously dumped into dollar theaters for one week, then in a protracted limbo as Lionsgate figured out what to do with it. This unfortunate, because in contrast with some of Lionsgate's other recent product--the 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine, for one example, or the annual Saw sequel--The Midnight Meat Train is a striking departure from business as usual. Given a proper release, it may have found an audience. But that's a might-have-been. As it stands now, it will have to find its audience on home video just like countless other horror films, great and small, have done before.
That said, this movie has two primary virtues: a striking visual design, in which harsh, industrial surfaces filmed in a desaturating blue light serve as an abbatoir; and a mean streak a mile wide. Taking its cues from the Clive Barker story of the same name, this movie is interested in placing vivid and nasty images on the screen, images that go well beyond the usual spew and grue of the genre. Director Ryûhei Kitamura, best known for the splenetic zombie action film, Versus, and also for the equally splenetic Godzilla: Final Wars, reels in his more outrageous visual tics for most of the film, saving them for the nastier murder sequences, where his signature style sometimes gets the best of him. This is nowhere more evident than in the murder of Ted Raimi's character, a mix of practical effects and less successful computer images:
Kitamura is at his best when he finds new points of view for his mayhem rather than new kinds of effects. The POV decapitation in the same sequence is rather more successful:
Structurally, the film is problematic. After a strong first act, the film sags as the filmmakers pad the length of the short story. The movie doubles back on itself as the investigation of Mr. Mahogany, the butcher, is undertaken by Leon's girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb), who basically finds out a bunch of things the audience already knows. The film's final act recovers to a degree, in so far as it doesn't veer away from Barker's Nietzchean conclusion that gazing too long into the abyss will make a monster of you. The impact of this is somewhat muted by the necessity of placing a Lovecraftian race of "Old Ones" on screen. The film doesn't adequately imbue them with an aspect of awe and terror equal to the crimes done in their name. Still, the images before this denouement are startling for their novelty. No horror movie I can think of has put similar imagery on screen. In this regard, The Midnight Meat Train actually manages the difficult feat of capturing what made Barker's intial splash with The Books of Blood so memorable.