The Midnight Meat Train: Barker Tale Stays On Track


The Plot:

After being rejected by an influential member in his career field, a struggling photographer delves deep into the inner city to capture the dangers of greatest. When he starts getting the recognition for his grittier work, things seems to be going great. Only, things are never what they seem. In his pursuit, he stumbles upon a butcher committing horrific acts he never dreamed possible. Now deeply involved in a game of cat and mouse, life and death, he must outwit the menacing meat man or become just another body on satin’s subway. Welcome to The Midnight Meat Train.

I’ve got a train to catch-Leon

The Review:

I remember moving to Indiana. I’ve always been an out of place kind of guy, especially in the hick fields of Kentucky. So when I moved to the above state, I felt more out of place than ever. To pass the time, I’d do what I’ve done my whole life, which is to devour cinema like the Tasmanian devil of the multiplexes. It was around this time that Lions Gate, not nearly the prestigious outfit it is today, was going through a management overhaul. As this occurred, new management was dumping the previous teams titles, as this is customary for the Hollywood suits to do. So when I found out a new film based on a Clive Barker tale was being dumped by Lions Gate to a third run theater by my house, I knew I had to go support the writer. It was one of the best decisions of my life my fellow Elm Street residents. So let’s all take out that butcher Knife, snap a few pictures and grab the late train as I review Ryûhei Kitamura’s 2008 bloody good fright fest, The Midnight Meat Train.

The Direction:

Ryûhei Kitamura directs The Midnight Meat Train with jaw-dropping perfection. This cinematic submarine is so immaculately steered by its trusty Captain, it’s hard to think other vessels ever fully reaching their destination. Kitamura,who is most known for directing the ever endeared 2000 cult classic Versus, unlike my last Throwback Thursday review, John McNaughton’s 1986 much loved tale Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this blood soaked tale is proficient in cinematic language. With composition and camera-movement execution in the piece moving the filmmaker into full cinema Jedi territory, it’s one of the best directed pictures I’ve ever seen. The force is strong with the director from Japan. While there are literally so many shots in the film that are just simply perfection, I want to discuss two that extremely impressed me.

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First up is a beautiful shot showing our trusty protagonist, a struggling photographer venturing into the depth of the city to capture humanity at its core, following three thugs into the underbelly of the city most call the subway. You know, where the midnight meat train picks up its fresh cattle. As Leon approaches an escalator, one leading closer to his supposedly dangerous subjects, The shot begins as he approaches the new millennium staircase. Beginning as a medium shot on Leon’s back, the camera then rises above the actor completely, taking him out the shot entirely. As he is fully out of frame, we see the three thugs at the bottom of the escalator. As both the audience and Leon are registering that those are the thugs the photographer is after, actor Bradley Cooper then reenters the frame in pursuit. This is just one example of multi-subject storytelling held within one shot.

There is also another shot that I loved during the end of the second act. There are so many in the film, you wouldn’t have to look hard to find others, this is just another that I thought was a sterling example of the discipline and prowess of the foreign filmmaker. The shot starts with a medium on the villain of the piece, played by British actor Vinnie Jones, exiting his plush apartment. As he walks towards frame, the camera begins to pull back until he reaches his exit destination. As he exits frame, without cutting, the camera begins to track back down the hall toward the villain’s apartment. The camera then turns right to reveal a character attempting to break into the apartment. All this happens without a cut and it’s magnificent. Like Value City, you just can’t do any better.

The Acting:

Ryûhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train showcases some immensely solid acting for a genre picture. That’s mainly due to the amazing talents of lead Bradley Cooper, playing the obsessive photographer Leon. Cooper, who has since made a huge name for himself staring in everything from David O. Russell’s magnificent 2012 film The Silver Linings Playbook to voicing the Joe Pesci inspired Rocket Racoon in James Gunn’s 2014 Masterpiece Guardians of the Galaxy, brings the good stuff with his portrayal of passion driven Leon. There’s an empathy to the man. We all want greatness and its interesting to see Cooper’s take on what it takes to get there. He’s simply one of the best actors to ever appear on the silver screen.

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Then there is the villainess Butcher, played with menacing grimace by Vinnie Jones. Jones, who stands over six feet tall, really was the perfect casting choice here. Without speaking, we can see all his pain on the facial surface. There is a tragedy to him, something I won’t go in to for fear of ruining the film, but its apt and great. I really love Jones in the role.

Lastly, is love interest Maya, played by the talented Leslie Bibb. Bibb is great here. Other actresses would have played it empty and simple. The future trophy wife for the inspiring photographer if you will. Not on Bibb’s watch. We feel bad for Maya and that comes from place of understanding what she’s going through and the way in which Bibb is portraying her. This emotion wouldn’t have come out had it not been for Bibbs grounded take on the character of Maya.

The Script:

Jeff Buhler‘s script, The Midnight Meat Train, is as fresh as McDonald’s Breakfast at five in the morning. Wait, that places isn’t always fresh. But you get the point Deadites. This stuff is freaking tasty.

Based on the 1984 Clive Barker short story of the same name, which can be found in Volume One in the horror legends Books of Blood series, Buhler makes some wise narrative choices with this piece. Those beings stay with the characters, and give them importance over mythology building.

While it’s important to build up the settings and the overall mythology of any narrative, regardless of the medium, character is where the focus should be. That’s not to say it should be character-driven storytelling over plot-driven, plot-driven storytelling wins every time, but the characters within that plot should be most nurtured. Here, instead of focusing on, or rather hinting, about the many twist and turns the story encompasses, Leon is the focus. His transformation, his change due to the horrific events of the past few days, is more key than teasing the audience with maybes. This also helps tremendously when blood hits the fan. We care for Leon and his band of endearing friends. I’m not complaining one bit.

It is true, the film doesn’t seem to have any deeper meanings other than maybe greatness comes at a price, but that’s completely fine. Every movie doesn’t have to be a life lesson. Some can just make you double check that lock before going to bed, or maybe taking a taxi instead of the dark subway train. And you know what, this writer is damn happy for the experience

The Verdict:

Midnight Meat Train is the kind of film that doesn’t come around the old horror train tracks very often. It’s immaculately directed, and the script is as ripe as supermarket produce. Throw in some solid performances, one extremely great turn from current film king Bradley Cooper, and you’ve got one hell of a thrilling locomotive fright fest. So get your ticket and watch up, just make sure you depart the train
before midnight. Because Deadites, it’s meat time.

The Grade: A-