Because a foundation formed in blood and guts does not form a respectable Hollywood legacy, Lionsgate decided to unceremoniously dump “The Midnight Meat Train” into a bare-bones release this past weekend, just so, conceivably, the studio can move on to classier, blockbustery affairs of extreme profit and Oscar gold.
Like clockwork, the dismissal of this Clive Barker-inspired romp sent the gorehounds into a tizzy. However, now that “Train” is available to the masses (well, to the major cities), I wonder why horror buffs would spend so much energy trying to protect a film that’s pretty much similar to every recent genre production?
A photographer looking for his big break, Leon (Bradley Cooper) snoops around New York City trying to capture its ugly, violent essence to impress a gallery owner (Brooke Shields). During his rounds, Leon spies a menacing man, Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), ending up in the subway system to satisfy his curiosity about the hulking, silent aggressor. What Leon observes is Mahogany’s brutal calling: stalking the late-hour passengers, viciously attacking them, and then tying up the remains like frozen sides of beef. Horrified, yet strangely drawn to the brutality, Leon finds his impulses under siege from an unknown, malevolent source, leaving his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) fearful to find what Leon is capable of.
We’ve all been here before: scarcely-lit, acid-washed cinematography; dreamlike storytelling; absurdly pitched performances; a lauded Asian filmmaker making his American debut; plenty of CG snap to the bloodletting; and a thinly-veiled commercial for the vegan movement. OK, so maybe the last example is a new twist in the horror genre, but the rest of “Train” suffers from a severe case of the been-theres/done-thats.
Much of the blame lies at the feet of director Ryuhei Kitamura (“Versus”), who perhaps doesn’t realize that most of his countrymen have already made the leap to the U.S. to make identical genre films for remake-happy executives. Granted, Kitamura is working off a Clive Barker template, but it's subpar Barker; a short story taken from the 1984 anthology “Books of Blood,” not a full-throated Barker brainstorm. The literary limitations confound the filmmaker at every turn.
The screenplay by Jeff Buhler endeavors to stretch out Leon’s nightmare by including new dimensions to his psychosis, turning Mahogany into a reoccurring figure of Silent Bob brutality, who acts as a doorman for unknown evils. It’s an interesting concept for a lurid potboiler, but Kitamura is lost trying to find a legitimate pull to this production. Most of the film remains in laughable states of melodrama and anemic genital metaphor, while the scares are goosed a little too severely by computer assistance. Honestly, why even bother with grotesque visuals when they look like they’ve been rendered by a MacBook? The lack of practical effects and make-up wizardry in “Train” is exhaustively disappointing.
Because “Train” was born of Barker, expect lots of open sores, spasms of madness, and a conclusion that slinks into complete fantasy. “The Midnight Meat Train” is perhaps more effective as a literary jab to the gut, not a feature-length piece of repetition. Believe me: if you’ve seen one uninspired monochromatic vision of Hell, you’ve seen them all.