MAY 1, 2008
It’s not every day you have to tell Samuel L. Jackson to step aside so your buddy can get out of the row to go take a much-needed piss, but then again for a lot of folks, it’s not every day that you have to watch/review a horror movie you’ve never seen before. That’s what happened at Midnight Meat Train though, which capped off an evening spent with a much needed entry in modern horror – a new Clive Barker film (and a good one at that).
(I have no idea why Sam was there, as it was otherwise just press and people involved with the film. Maybe he just likes a good horror movie as much as the rest of us).
Despite being the most famous horror novelist next to Stephen King, very few films have been made from Barker’s work. Three of them he directed himself, and there have been about as many made by others (such as Candyman and Rawhead Rex). And to some extent I can understand why – apart from Candyman, as well as Hellraiser and its first sequel, none of these films made much at the box office. Barker’s themes (not to mention the borderline hardcore sex usually found within his tales) aren’t quite as easy to digest as your average horror movie, but his unique visions can’t usually be done for cheap. That’s a shame, but hopefully Midnight Meat Train will turn things around once released to theaters.
Ryuhei Kitamura makes his American debut (and his first legit horror film – his others are more fantasy/action based, including a Godzilla film), and fares far better than many of his peers. The film has a very unique look – it’s very grainy, but also has a lot of soft focus (it’s rare that anything but the main characters or object in the scene are in sharp focus, backgrounds are sometimes a total blur). Some of it may remind you of the Saw films (particularly when the blueish hues and lighting take over during the subway scenes), but it’s still visually striking from start to finish.
It’s also a well cast film. Bradley Cooper is a perfect choice to carry this type of film – he’s not a big star, but neither is his character (an aspiring photographer). Leslie Bibb plays his girlfriend, the most supermodel-y waitress in film history, and thus between this and Iron Man she’s become my de facto favorite actress of the year. Vinnie Jones plays the same mute bad guy he seems to always play, but he’s rarely as menacing. And Hostel II’s Roger Bart pops up in a few scenes, and he’s always a welcome presence.
Back to the menace though – what surprised me most about the film was how it managed to be equally as suspenseful as it was splatter-y. There are a couple stalk/chase sequences between Jones and Cooper that rival any modern horror films’ attempts at suspense (the fact that these sequences have zero dialogue is another bonus), giving the film a “classy” edge that many others lack (come on, are you really biting your nails when watching a Saw film?). At the same time, the kill sequences are impressively gory, to the point where it’s almost a surprise this got an R rating. They also carry a bit of an Argento feel; there’s a fantastic gag where a guy, hanging upside down on a meat hook, sees his reflection in a growing pool of his own blood. A+.
Ironically, this is also part of the only issue I had with the film. During the 2nd act, it begins to get a tad bit monotonous, as Cooper follows Jones around twice, with many near-misses, and we also see about 4 scenes of Jones killing random people on the train. It’s a short film (less than 90 minutes I think) but I wish something else could have been done to make the film feel a bit less like it was going nowhere for a small amount of time. Also, Cooper’s character becomes traditionally “obsessed” with his target, ignoring his girlfriend, plastering the entire apartment with photos, and even eating a steak (he’s a vegetarian who brings his own tofu to the diner where his girlfriend works). But this obsession comes rather suddenly, and is not fully explored (I wanted to see more with his newfound love of meat, for starters). Still, once the 3rd act (which is almost entirely train-set) begins, it’s no longer an issue, and the film barely lets up from there.
There is also a random, hilarious reference to an (unjustifiably) Oscar winning movie that had me laughing so hard I apparently annoyed others in the theater. Sorry!
Another great thing about the film is that screenwriter Jeff Buhlerwill didn’t slow the film down with needless exposition and explanation for everything. Not only does it leave available story for the (hopeful) sequel, but it keeps the film focused on its real point(s). In fact, without spoiling much, you can almost look at the film as an “origin” film once the final scenes play out, and like any origin story, it sets the stage for bigger and possibly better things to come.
Between this and The Ruins (and, God willing, the release of Repo), it looks like 2008 will be a great year for original, top notch (and R RATED!) horror films. Hopefully the box office will be good enough to inspire more Barker stories making their way to the screen.
What say you?