The circumstances surrounding the release of The Midnight Meat Train have already catapulted the movie into cult classic status. After being advertised as a regular horror film for Lionsgate, the movie was eventually released in only 100 theaters across the country and delayed past its original release date. These behind-the-scenes moves gave the film more attention than it probably would have received normally and succeeded in generating some effective online buzz. Surprisingly, it actually lived up to the hype.
The Midnight Meat Train
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones
Let's just take a second and remember how awesome it was to hear the late Don LaFontaine say this film's title at the end of the trailer. I've heard that guy utter a lot of movie titles, but no other title has caused this much audible laughter in a theater.
Ridiculous title and strange release circumstances aside, The Midnight Meat Train was actually a competent and well-constructed horror film. I know - I was shocked also. The direction was impressive, the cinematography was ethereal and evocative, and the actors (little known as they are) were up to the task of making the best movie they could. Sometimes with horror films like this, you can tell that the actors cash in their performances because they know the movie isn't going to be worth it in the end - this time, you could tell that the director really concentrated on getting the best performances possible from his actors.
Bradley Cooper stars as Leon, a photographer who yearns to capture the gritty essence of the city. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) is supportive while she works in a crappy diner, waiting on him to hit the big time and sell his photos so they can get enough money to get married. The problem comes when Leon follows the wrong dude (Vinnie Jones) on the subway one night, discovering a secret that he wasn't supposed to uncover. Cooper in particular stood out as surprisingly fun to watch in this movie because most viewers will know him as the ultra-douche villian Zack from Wedding Crashers. He does a complete 180 here and plays a likable (if not obsessive) protagonist that you can't help but pull for, even though he makes some stupid mistakes along the way. And Leslie Bibb definitely steps up her acting from the ditzy blonde she portrayed in Talladega Nights, proving that she easily join the ranks of other actresses in her age group that can play decent roles but not quite carry a film on her own just yet.
I can't say much about this film without ruining some interesting (if not completely original) plot twists, but I would definitely recommend The Midnight Meat Train to fans of the genre. It's refreshing to see an Asian director not have anything to do with Sarah Michelle Gellar or black-haired children in a horror film. Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of Godzilla: Final Wars, made his American debut with TMMT, and I hope he sticks around for a while. There's a shortage of well-crafted horror movies out there today, and I think this guy has the chops to bring us a few more. The movie promised to be gory and violent and didn't hold back when it came to the brutality; my favorite shot in the film was from the POV of a victim whose head gets knocked off with a meat tenderizer - but the camera acts as if it's inside her head, spinning around after impact and landing on the ground nearby only to see her own body lying on the floor. It was a rewardingly original idea that I've never come across before, and proved to be one of the coolest parts of the movie.
Vinnie Jones, best known for his bit parts in Guy Ritchie's British gangster flicks, utters only one word as the mysterious Butcher during the course of the film. Honestly, that one word wasn't even necessary. He does his best work looking menacing and being silent, and as much of an insult as that may be, it's also a compliment to his physical stature and haunting presence. Casting directors, take note - this guy needs to be in more movies.
If you're in the mood for some above-average suspense or just want to boost your film geek cred like I did, check out The Midnight Meat Train. The ending may leave you a little confused on how they got there, but give it some credit - at least it didn't go for the boring ending. (This whole movie was based on a short story by The Master of Horror, Clive Barker; it actually reminded me more of an old episode of "The Twilight Zone.") Until next time...