Midnight Meat Train is kind of a hybrid between a very intense crime
thriller and a stygian horror film with supernatural elements. While those
two aspects of the film are revealed in concert, the major thrust of the film switches
from one to the other in the final act.
Leon is a budding art photographer who wants to be the first to capture
the true underbelly of the city in bleak black-and-white compositions. His
first meeting with an influential art dealer results in a humiliating
dressing-down in which she tells Leon that his photographs are cowardly
failures which always stop short of telling the full, unvarnished story.
Determined to prove his worth, Leon takes to the darkest urban haunts at
two in the morning with a new determination to capture the ebony soul of
the city. In so doing, he accidentally photographs a murderer and his
prospective victim just before they enter a subway train. Of course he
doesn't know at that moment what he has photographed, but realizes it the
next day when he sees the victim's picture in the newspaper. He takes his
story to the police, but his photos do not show any part of the murderer
except an arm, so the detective decides that the story lacks enough
substance to be helpful.
From that point on, Leon is determined to solve the mystery concerning
the disappearance of the woman he photographed, who seems to have just
vanished from the face of the earth, like many others in recent weeks. He
soon focuses his investigation on a mysterious butcher who was in the
subway station on the night the girl vanished. He follows the butcher,
photographs him, and ... well ...
Meanwhile, Leon's adoring girlfriend is upset by the changes in her
gentle vegetarian lover. He is obsessed with the butcher, and with a parallel
set of disappearances which happened a century earlier. He is obviously
undergoing a major psychological breakdown, which is changing him
significantly. He starts to make love roughly. He starts to eat meat.
Let's pause for a moment.
Up to that point in the film, the audience has basically been watching
a very gory version of a Brian de Palma movie. The photographer becomes
obsessed with the murderer, and it is only a matter of time before the
killer realizes that he's being followed and who is doing it. The best
scenes in the film result from the dramatic tension generated by the
killer's gradual awareness of the photographer's presence, the
photographer's fear of discovery, and the even greater fear Leon must face
when the killer connects the dots and starts to stalk back.
That much was a brilliantly realized psychological crime thriller. The
only thing that made it a horror film was that the actual murders were
pictured in far more graphic detail than de Palma would limn it.
Then the film takes a mysterious turn into the Twilight Zone.
The killer is about to be overpowered by one of his victims, a large
brawny tough, when the subway operator appears, and intervenes ... on
behalf of the killer! He tells the killer that he is sorely disappointed
The killer soon captures the photographer, the latter passes out, but
he awakens in another location, none the worse for wear except for some
curious runes etched into the skin on his chest.
Since the film is quite a good genre effort and I'm now straying too far into spoiler
territory, I can't really tell you the rest of the story, other to say
that the explanation places the film securely in the horror genre.
This film was the first American effort from Japanese hot-shot Ryuhei
Kitamura, and was adapted (faithfully, by all accounts) from a short story
by horror maven Clive Barker. The film was produced by Lionsgate in its
drive to take over the gorehound and torture porn market, an effort which
saw them reap substantial profits from such fare as the Saw and Hostel
That's a great pedigree for this sort of film. As this particular film
was about to be released, however, Lionsgate had a change of management
and a come-to-Jesus meeting with its bankers that moved it into mainstream
Hollywood territory. The ultra-violent Meat Train was taken off the
express line to a full-scale release, then shuttled off on a local line to
nowhere. Instead of the anticipated wide release, it was released into 100
theaters on August 1 with no fanfare. Clive Barker fans called for some
beheadings at Lionsgate, but those genre aficionados are relatively few in
number and had no support other than from a few scattered critics. The
brief trial turned up such dreadful box office numbers that the possibility of
expansion was obviated.
There are some parts of the story that bother me, including a few
inconsistencies in the plot. The murderer's strength and vulnerability,
for example, seem to change from scene to scene, and that creates some
confusion and exposes some typical horror film contrivance. And the
ending, which includes an explanation of sorts, is either terrifying or
silly, and I'm not sure which. In the main, however, this is a kick-ass
horror story which could give your children nightmares for weeks. (Hint:
don't let them watch.) It takes some time to develop the photographer's
character, so the audience gets involved enough to care when he begins to
disintegrate. It is filled with flashy direction, speeding the action and
slowing it down, not just to show off, but to accentuate the action. The
set design and lighting techniques are stylized and effective. There are
some set pieces that are just dazzling in their ability to put the
audience into the mind of the protagonist, highlighted by a cat-and-mouse
chase among the carcasses in a slaughterhouse.
Fair warning. Meat Train is grisly, ugly, and unremittingly bleak. It
makes SE7EN look like a brightly lit Sunday school picnic. You don't want
to see this if you are repulsed by dismemberments, graphic butchery, and
extreme brutality. I myself did not actually enjoy the film and would not
watch it again, but that's just because this sort of unpleasantness is not
my kind of experience. Setting my personal preferences aside, I have to
say that I was dazzled by the film's brilliance
and its unhesitating commitment to capture the true essence of Clive
Barker's writing. Given the odd ending (which, I am assured, is completely
faithful to the source material), I'm not sure about the actual meat on
that midnight train, but this film makes up for any lack of steak with
plenty of sizzle.