Sabbath Reviews: The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Directed By: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written By: Jeff Buhler (Screenplay), Clive Barker (Short Story)
This is one of those films whose names kept cropping up on internet sites and I kept making a mental note to check out. It took me two years of making that mental note to finally sit down and watch it, and you know what? I wish I had a lot sooner.
Meat Train hit some snags on its way to release, originally being slated for a May release that got pushed back to August. Most of the marketing was done online and in the end it only got screened at 100 theaters, which is just a shame. This film deserved better than that and instead it largely went unnoticed, which is why I feel the need to bring it to the public’s attention.
The film centers around two men: one, a quiet, suit-wearing Vinnie Jones (character name: Mahogany) who rides the subway train at night and waits until the cars are all but empty. At that moment he calmly picks his tools out of his bag, approaches the last remaining person (or people) on the train and bludgeons the ever loving shit out of them. He butchers them like cattle and later on you find that this is apropos considering his profession as a meat butcher AND the fact that once the train pulls in, he dangles the body from meathooks (there is a reason but I will not spoil that for you). Jones steps outside of his normal character choice to play a silent man … in fact, he only has one sentence in the entire movie. Instead, his eyes do the talking and given that I normally don’t think of Vinnie Jones as a fantastic actor, I’ve got to give him props here.
On the other side of the coin is Leon (Bradley Cooper), a New York photographer who is struggling to capture something truly great. By truly great I mean something that means worth a lick to a stuck-up gallery owner who tells him he needs to capture the true heart of the city. As Leon finds out while interrupting a potential rape, the ‘true heart of the city’ is pictures of crime and fear. Through a twisted series of events, this leads him to growing ever closer to the Subway Butcher, who he simultaneously becomes obsessed with photographing, as well as exposing, putting himself and his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb) in dire straits.
Of course, nobody believes Leon. When he tries to go to the cops, they treat him like a suspect. When he tells his girlfriend, she thinks he’s obsessing and she’s losing him. He’s spiraling out of control. The theme isn’t all that unique or unfamiliar, and to be honest some of the beats are pretty predictable but it didn’t matter to me. I wanted to see Leon’s confrontation with the Butcher.
By the end of the film, we get it and it’s fantastic. Kitamura’s big fight scene in a claustrophobic atmosphere is great and filled with tension. The tension only builds and builds and the release we get is anything but sweet.
The kills are always brutal and sometimes quick — but that’s okay, the real thrill of this movie isn’t in the copious amounts of blood. The one fight scene between Mahogany and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s characters shows Kitamura knows how to direct a fight (once again, emphasized by the final fight in the movie) but the best part is always in the release, specifically the secret you find out about Mahogany post-Rampage fight. Once again, I won’t spoil it for you.
There are a few things that are left unanswered and I had to look online for. Apparently, the answers are in the short story but didn’t transfer into the screenplay. A bit of an annoyance but ultimately something that can be overlooked. I do recommend looking online to figure out some of these missing pieces because they do complete things, but I don’t feel they detract from the film on a large level.
The Midnight Meat Train is largely about obsession and I suppose can be read as an allegory for the class system and how we are giving our lives to feed the elites — yeah, that subtext is definitely there. I think at one point when the train disembarks there’s a large, faded sign on the ground showing they are underneath City Hall. Memory’s fuzzy, but I thought it was cute. There’s more to support that theory but you’ll just have to watch the film and read online to figure out who Mahogany is and who they are. You’ll know who I’m talking about.
I know that Clive Barker’s name means a lot to some of your horrorphiles out there. Honestly, all he means to me is Hellraiser which I’ve only seen once and possibly not all of it ages ago so I don’t remember how it was. He’s the man responsible for the short story this is based on, so if that means something to you, kudos. I see a lot of reviewers saying this is Barker’s best work since Hellraiser (interesting since the short story was written in 1984 … guess it just got discovered). All I know is The Midnight Meat Train is one of those instances where I breathed a sigh of relief that the horror film I picked wasn’t a shit sandwich in gold wrapping.
It’s not perfect. The fact that some questions are left unanswered might be annoying to some who don’t like to do after-film homework, but it’s not on the same level of Donnie Darko. A trip to imDB can sort it out. Some events are predictable and fall in line with standard horror tropes. With that said, I still think this is worth checking out for people who know story trumps gore but know that doesn’t have to mean the absence of it. Enjoy.