The Scoop: 2008, R, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, and Vinnie Jones
Tagline: The most terrifying ride you’ll ever take.
Summary Capsule: An edgy photographer tracks a serial killer through the subways of New York City and might be losing his mind in the process.
Al’s Rating: Like being whacked with a meat tenderizer just before your stop.
Al’s Review: This has become a very hard review for me to write. I saw The Midnight Meat Train nearly two and a half months ago and knew exactly what I thought about it as soon as it was over. Every time I sat down to type this out, however, I wound up walking away in frustration. It seems that there are two reviews battling it out in my head: the one that I really, really want to give it and the one I think it ultimately earned. In fairness, I’m gonna give you a glimpse of both.
The Midnight Meat Train tells the story of Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper), a struggling New York photographer who stays out until all hours of the night attempting to capture the city “as it really is.” One night, a woman involved in one of his more successful photos turns up missing and Leon becomes suspicious of a nameless man on the subway in the background (Vinnie Jones). Leon’s suspicion quickly gives way to obsession, and soon he is stalking the man through the city and stumbling onto things far darker and more dangerous than kidnapping.
The review I want to write is going to gush about what a fantastic looking film director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) has created. It stays far away from the bright lights and family atmosphere NYC has tried so hard to cultivate in the last fifteen years, preferring instead to dwell in the gray and grungy alleys and dark, isolated subway platforms that inhabit everyone’s worst fears about New York after dark. Think less like Sex and the City, and more like The Warriors.
The tension is relentless as the story gathers steam and Leon’s obsession takes its toll on his health, his sanity, and his relationship with his fiancée, Maya (Leslie Bibb). Director Kitamura is also smart enough to keep the pressure on, once it develops. You’ll find no jump scares and no It’s Only A Cat moments; none of the relief valves our horror movies usually come equipped with nowadays. Even when the film gets violent (and, believe me, it does) it’s over so quick that it doesn’t feel like a release. It’s just ratcheting you up another notch and you’re forced to sit there and stew in it. It’s great.
The other review, however—the one that’s been making my life difficult—has more to do with how I felt when The Midnight Meat Train was over. The ultimate payoff of the film is simply everything the first eighty minutes is not. Without getting specific, I’ll say that the ending devolves into gratuitous scares, indulgent gore, and a genre shift so jarring it’ll give you whiplash. In your typical horror flick, I will happily cheer on all this trashiness and then some, but here it feels like a betrayal. All the intelligence and creepy allure that drew you in are totally squandered on a cheap, one-trick twist and a climax with all the style of a Saw sequel.
Also, this other review would be spending enormous amounts of time in hysterics over the title of the movie. The Midnight Meat Train? Seriously? It sounds like it belongs in the back room of the video store. The one that has the swinging double doors and a security camera.
Anyway, I really, really, really want to recommend this because of everything it tries to be. The story is refreshingly different, the characters are interesting and layered, and the mood slithers under your skin instead of trying to scare you out of it. The Midnight Meat Train is the kind of movie that the horror community should be hoisting on its collective shoulders and parading around the field. In fact, you know what? See it. Rent it, buy it, Netflix it. However you feed your movie cravings, make The Midnight Meat Train a part of it. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it, but it deserves to be recognized for everything it does right. Maybe next time they’ll feel more comfortable taking a chance instead of going back to the well.
- The film is based on a Clive Barker short story of the same name. Barker also provided some of the paintings in Susan Hoff’s art gallery.
- Vinnie Jones has never been more terrifying?
- Tofu spattered in meat grease? Mmm.
- The disembodied head-cam?
- The Guardian Angel’s giant knife must be really uncomfortable to carry around in his pants like that?
- Mahogany’s personal grooming habits? Gross.
- So there’s a literal midnight meat train? Interesting.
Susan Hoff: The next time you find yourself at the heart of the city, stay put. Be brave. Keep shooting. Then come see me.
Leon Kauffman: She didn’t like my work.
Jurgis: No she doesn’t. When she hates somebody’s work, she gives them about a minute. You got three.
Leon: So, what, she likes it?
Jurgis: I wouldn’t go that far.
Leon Kauffman: I’ve got a train to catch.
Driver: Step away from the meat.
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Absolute Power