[Our thanks to Justin Decloux for the following review.]
It smells like trouble when a film has its theatrical release date pushed back indefinitely. The eyes start to water when the film completely disappears off the calendar. Finally, an annoying vomit flavoured after-taste starts to form when the film is announced as a Direct to DVD title. Midnight Meat Train is one of those films and when the opportunity to see it arose I made it my mission to discover exactly why this fate had befallen it. Based on the cult favourite short story from the Books of Blood by horror auteur Clive Barker, it's also the first North American Picture from Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura, one of the most loved / hated directors working today. I was baffled. There was some solid names behind the film, so why was it being treated like the cousin that ate the cat?
New York Photographer Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper) has a good life. He has a beautiful wife (Lesliee Bibb), he takes photographs for a living, and his friend (Roger Bart) just introduced him to one of the biggest art figures in the city. When his work gets savagely critiqued for "Not sticking around to photograph the REAL moment" he promises go that extra mile. Leon ends up a up photographing and stopping a mugging/rape late at night in on a subway platform. He stops it, but when the woman shows up missing the next day that his paranoia alights. Could the scary looking giant (Vinnie Jones) be the killer? If so, how could it have been going back since the 1900's? Is there something bigger going on here? Or is it all in his mind?
I started to panic when I realized there was sixteen producers/co-producers/executive producers/Evil Lord Masters that had overseen the production. Was this the guillotine guilty for the decapitation? Had everyone's vision been diluted down to nothing but skin and bones? Not to my blood covered eyes or ears. Everything here reeks of a team at their creative peak. Kitamura's over-excess sensibilities in the pacing department are kept under wraps but his visual style is pristinely intact. I felt like I was watching camera moves choreographed by Argento in his prime. And for a serial killer film, I was surprised that there was very little repetition to the kill scenes. This is the bloodiest mainstream (by a major studio) I've seen in years. There's absolutely no way the cut I saw is being awarded a "R" rating: Slow motion bullets through eyes, a woman split up the middle (Pregnant Horror Film "Inside" style") and enough Hammer to Face mashing to keep you nice and tender. Visually everything here is aces. It's the script that slips on the red stuff and cracks its skull.
Bradley Cooper fights his way out of the "Supporting Actor's" club to and does an admirable job. His role as the photographer investigating the subway-death is likeable at first, but when the story goes into "Dark Territory" the audience is left in the dust. As he goes completely nuts the filmmakers realize the audiences sympathies are disappearing and they try to make up for it by shifting the focus to the lead's wife and best friend. It could have worked. Instead, we're treated to a slew of idiotically 'Story Furthering' decisions that completely kill the momentum. "Let's go the Killer's Apartment! Nothing wrong can happen there!" If it weren't for the solid gut punch ending, I would have cursed them for killing so many precious brain-cells.
On most counts, Midnight Meat Train succeeds. It's visually engrossing, the acting and story are (mostly) solid and it has a great lead villain in Vinnie Jones. It only falters in an illogical last act. No matter, the gore factor is selling point to the genre crowd and they don't have to worry. No punches are pulled. If this is the kind quality material that Kitamura's going to deliver in Hollywood, I hope he stays there. Let's just hope that his next film (A remake of VERSUS !?!?) isn't caught in distribution hell. We may have bodies on our hands if it does.
Review by Justin Decloux