Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones
Adapted from the second short story in volume one of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, The Midnight Meat Train is,
for the most part, a ferocious descent into hell and madness. If
you want to go along for the ride, you'll follow one man's downward
spiral from aspiring art-photographer to a butcher forced to kill in
order to feed a sect of older-than-humankind monstrosities. Um, yeah.
Although he wrote the short
story upon which the script was based, and had a hand in the film's
production, Barker himself did not direct. That role was left to Ryuhei
Kitamura, probably best known for his 2000 effort Versus and less so for the hugely underrated 2004 flop Godzilla: Final Wars.
In the film, we follow Leon (Cooper), an art-photog on the cusp of breakthrough
as he begins to stalk and photograph a man who he believes is killing
people in the subway. Leon begins to lose both his perspective and his
grip on reality, and becomes obsessed with the butcher Mahogany (an
incredible, wordless turn by Vinnie Jones).
Once it is revealed that
Mahogany is indeed a killer, the film becomes less about the hunt and
more about the quickly shrinking mental/physical divide between he and
Leon. In the end, Mahogany is dispatched by a now near-mad Leon, who is
then unwillingly handed the role once occupied by the recently deceased
butcher - that is, he is now charged with harvesting the meat supply
for the creatures who live in the abandoned subway station.
story sounds completely wack, but it actually works for a few reasons.
One is the performances, or rather, performance - Jones is chilling as the tongueless butcher
and carries far more menace here than in his "enforcer" roles in the Guy
Ritchie films. The other characters aren't as strong, but they do a
serviceable job. Two - if you sympathize with Leon's slow melt into
insanity, you'll appreciate the film much more than if you don't care.
Without that, it's simply a bloodbath. But what I find sets Barker
above other schlock-meisters is the depth of his characters, and his
complete willingness and unafraidness to go deeper and deeper still -
sometimes there isn't a happy ending, and sometimes, when you hit rock
bottom, you don't climb back up, but instead burrow further - recall Hellraiser, Candyman, even Lord of Illusions
(I count myself as one of three people who actually liked that film),
all of which deal in much more complex and mature relationships to the
self - to sex, to death, to pleasure and pain and ecstasy - than your
stock "horror" film. And three - Kitamura, along with Max Payne
lensman Jonathan Sela, employs some incredible camera work and displays
an incredibly dynamic visual sense. The camera is always moving,
zooming, panning, swooping, and seems very much a character itself, as
cliched as that is.
Barker's obsessions, even from this
early story, are evident here - rough sex, twisted personalities, the
real and the imagined, and the base, dumb physicality of meat. While
not his best work (or adaptation thereof), The Midnight Meat Train is an
intriguing film in its own right, and a solid addition to the Barker
cinematic oeuvre. And it takes place largely in a subway, which
automatically gains it a pass in my book (see: The Warriors, Jacob's Ladder, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, etc...). I've got this thing about subways in film...
R1 Lionsgate DVD has a few nice extras in which Barker talks about his
painting and writing and breaks down his philosophy of art, and also an
"Anatomy of a Murder" feature, in which various cast and crew explain
the behind-the-scenes workings of one of the film's subway murders. Not
for everyone, but if you dig Barker's work or subways, then I
say, "All aboard....the Midnight Meat Train".