.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Monday, October 10, 2011

movies: the midnight meat train (2008)

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.

The 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...

The 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".

No comments:

Post a Comment