'The Midnight Meat Train' Review: Come On, Ride the Train
Alright, let’s get this out of the way first: the fact that The Midnight Meat Train wasn’t already taken by a porno flick is a big missed opportunity. It’s painfully obvious, to the point that there had better be some producer repeatedly slamming their face into a door over the fact that they didn’t spring on it.
Sophomoric humor aside, let’s talk about this little slasher oddity. Based on a short story by renowned horror author, Clive Barker, The Midnight Meat Train follows Leon (Bradley Cooper) as he attempts to make a name for himself by photographing the darker side of the city. What starts with pictures of awkward train ride interactions evolves into capturing attempted gang assault, and ultimately leads our protagonist on the trail of a man known as Mahogany, who brutally assaults late-night travelers with a tenderizer. Photographing and unravelling the mysteries of this man’s murderous past quickly becomes an obsession for Leon; one which threatens to destroy his relationships and his sanity.
While some of the effects are just above PlayStation 1 quality and the violence often becomes ridiculous to the point of bordering on the laughable, The Midnight Meat Train actually does a lot of things well. There’s a great mood and style about the piece, and the acting is superb, on the whole. There’s a sense of dread and desolation that permeates the entire work, which serves to build tension better than any gruesome act or half-baked scare. It’s an atmospheric work with a clear sense of design, easily proving Ryuhei Kitamura’s talent by drawing inspiration from his earlier movies, to serve as an interesting companion piece (putting this gritty horror flick next to the bombastic Godzilla: Final Wars was certainly a stylistic treat).
Where Meat Train really shines is in the way it portrays Leon’s descent into madness. It’s not a quick fall, even for a movie that barely overreaches an hour and a half, and there’s no moment of gibbering laughter or other ridiculous heel-turn. Instead, Leon is worn away, bit by bit, as his desire to impress other edgy photographers evolves into a compulsion to unravel the truth about Mahogany’s brutal string of homicides. His girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb) and others around him try to pull him back from the brink, but there’s just enough sense in each of Leon’s steps that he can never fully pull himself away. It’s the same kind of morbid fascination that the audience for such a piece has, and Cooper plays it all with such finesse that it never feels forced or comical. Were it not for the genre tropes and the final few minutes of the movie, Meat Train would be a fantastic look into psychosis and the macabre fixations that drive it.
But that isn’t to say that The Midnight Meat Train isn’t without its faults. There are some unused plot threads and scenes that feel somewhat superfluous to the whole. Most of the kills are drawn out just for shock, and stray a bit too far towards the fantastic for what the film and killer seem to be aiming towards. Not to mention the final twist, which, while lightly telegraphed, doesn’t seem to really fit the whole. It’s not that it’s bad or that it comes out of nowhere but it feels a bit old-hat, and it makes you question what it really adds to the experience or the understanding of everything preceding it. It’s certainly very Barker, and that’s about as much as can be said for it, besides a few VERY bleak and gory moments which it weaves in.
Overall, The Midnight Meat Train isn’t anything truly new or eye-opening. It won’t keep you up at night wondering about the ramifications of its tale or fearing any of the baddies. It won’t be in the running for best slasher kills or be examined for literary worth. It’s just a well-made, well-acted little tale that deserves more credit than its tiny dollar-theater release afforded it.
And, come on, you know you want to tell your friends to watch a movie called The Midnight Meat Train.
Final Verdict: Watch It