Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
What can I tell you about The Midnight Meat Train that you can’t get from the title? No shock that this is going to be a horror title and that there’s going to be a good amount of blood in it. What may not be known from the title is that this is based on a Clive Barker story from “The Books of Blood.” I like quite a bit of that collection, and I’ve always thought that “In the Hills, the Cities” would make a dandy short film. Based on the stories in the collection, I suppose I’m not terribly shocked that this one was picked. Good, nasty title and potential for quality gore? How could you pass it up? Throw in Bradley Cooper’s first starring role, and you’ve got the makings of at least a cult film on your hands, right?
Enter Leon (Cooper), a photographer who wants to break into the art world. His goal is to photograph the dirty, gritty underside of the city. He meets with a gallery owner named Susan (Brooke Shields(!)) who tells him that while he’s got some talent, he seems to shy away from staying at a place long enough to get the real, meaningful shot that tells the whole story. That night he heads to the subway where he sees a woman being threatened by two thugs with knives. He stops them, and the woman gets on the train. The next day, he discovers that the woman has gone missing.
Intrigued, and rebuffed by the police, Leon starts investigating on his own. He continues taking pictures in the subway, focusing one night on a strange man with what looks like a medical bag. It isn’t until later that he discovers that the man in the photographs was also present in the train car the night the woman disappeared. Further investigation into this man named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) shows him to be a butcher. As the audience, we already have seen Mahogany in action. We know that he’s slaughtering people on the subway, carving them up and butchering them, so this doesn’t come as a surprise to us.
Leon sinks further and further into his investigation, much to the dismay of his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb), who begins her own investigation, one that intensifies when Leon sees Mahogany in action and wakes up in a slaughterhouse with strange markings carved into his chest. Maya is also pushed away by the police, and one officer seems to direct her to the train on which the killings tend to happen. Leon, having figured out at least a part of what is going on, heads for the train as well in order to confront Mahogany and put an end to the killing once and for all.
The biggest issue I have with The Midnight Meat Train is the last five minute. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but after the giant confrontation scene in which we discover the real story that is going on in the subway, there is only one possible way the film can end. Despite this, the film spends a couple of minutes trying to be coy with us to give us a big shocker in the final frame. Here’s the thing: if you didn’t see the final frame coming, you weren’t paying attention to the film at all. There is only one possible way for the movie to end, so when that last shot appears, it appears as a foregone conclusion, not the giant twist it was setting itself up to be. That’s a shame, because up to this point, while the movie has certainly been strange and staggeringly bloody, it’s also been fun. The ending damps this down some.
The truth of The Midnight Meat Train is that this is a Disney ride that no one who isn’t prepared for a cinematic bloodbath is going to take. The title says it all, really. You should expect eyeballs popping out, people being smashed about with hammers, bodies on meat hooks, and vast sanguine floods. Oh, you’re going to get that, for sure. There’s plenty of splatter here, most of it performed by a suitably taciturn and stone-faced Vinnie Jones.
What I specifically like about this is that it’s very faithful to the original story. It changes Leon’s profession and moves the location from New York to Los Angeles, but is otherwise very much on track with Clive Barker’s original story. Because it’s Barker, it goes to some very weird places, and while it doesn’t make a great deal of sense on the surface, it does have a sort of internal logic to it.
This isn’t a movie I’d queue up that often, but I liked it more than I thought I would, mainly because of its dedication to the original text.
Why to watch The Midnight Meat Train: Quality gore and an adherence to the source material.
Why not to watch: The ending tries to build up suspense that doesn’t exist.