Based on Clive Barker's short story in the "Books of Blood" series in 1984, "MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN" is directed by Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura in his Hollywood film debut. Those who are familiar with Kitamura's works know that the man is excellent in visuals and editing tricks--the man is renowned for the terrific Jidai Geki hit "Azumi", shot an excellent film in a measly seven days with "Aragami", gave us the genre-bending cult hit "Versus" and thrilled us with the Yakuza occult short film "The Messenger". The man knows his stuff and has an impressive resume in Asia. However, this time around, he adapts a sub-par Barker story to the big screen, which restrains the man's visionary style.
Leon (Bradley Cooper) is an aspiring "art" photographer who moonlights as a photo journalist. He walks around this urban city in the hopes of capturing something significant to a gallery owner (played by Brooke Shields). During his rounds, Leon chances upon a potential mugging of a beautiful Japanese model named Nora (Erika Sakaki) by street thugs and scares the thugs away. Nora boards the train and disappears. By chance, the following night, Leon spies upon a huge, intimidating man named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) and he is intrigued. Leon is hooked and he witnesses Mahogany murder the remaining passengers on a late subway train. Terrified, yet oddly drawn to this killer, Leon finds himself in the middle of this mystery and drags his sexy girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) along with him.
Ryuhei Kitamura is an excellent director. He knows his stuff, and knows how to edit and make his shots look very cool. The gore and blood in the film are nicely executed--freeze frames, gorged eyes popping out, limbs hacked off, hammered heads, splattering arterial spray, quick zooms and close ups with the usual darkly lit cinematography and gloomy cinematography. It is quite stylish, visceral and the shots look very pretty. Director Kitamura is utilizing the best from what is available to him, a butcher-killer who stalks late subway trains has a very limited concept, so Kitamura uses style to cover up its very limited plot. There is a lot of brutal violence in the film, admittedly it isn't anything we haven't seen before, so what can ace director Kitamura do? He does what he does best, he shoots and sticks to his style.
The film does have very obvious limits to its narrative. The screenplay by Jeff Buhler seems stretched out, he depends on Leon's visions and flashbacks to try to go into the depths of his mind and imminent psychosis. The rest of the script is pretty routine, relying on melodrama and insipid metaphor, the two leads does have their moments of intimacy to generate sympathy (it would‘ve helped if it had abundant scenes of sex and nudity). Kitamura's skill is stretched to the limit in trying to find a good foothold on the film‘s premise. The monstrous images utilizes the use of prosthetics and assisted by CGI, there are some legitimate attempts at scares but the problem is, what is meant to be gory and disquieting, looks too pretty--how can a scene supposed to be alarmingly frightening become mere eye candy? All the CGI blood feels a little out of place.
Alright, I know what you are wondering about--does "Midnight Meat Train" have an iconic antagonist? Well, this killer is an impeccably dressed psychotic individual and he does what he does very meticulously. He carries a briefcase based on a veterinarian's bag that holds his "butcher" tools. Vinnie Jones is rightly cast in the role of the mad killer and he does give off a creepy, intimidating presence. Unlike, Jason or Freddy, Mahogany seems rather normal and does have certain complexities to his character. He is hinted as dying, and he doesn't want to give up his work in serving his twisted masters. Apparently, Mahogany has a disturbing purpose--to separate the human world from something evil, a task he believes needs to be done.
Most of the blame would have to fall on the adaptation of its source material. (much with every other book adaptation). Barker's short story does have a very limited concept. The filmmakers would have done well to have just adapted the idea and evolved a plotline more fitting for the big screen; I would have loved to see a film about Mahogany's masters and they should've stuck to the basics of an old-fashioned gory, exploitive, horrific experience, instead of a polished execution. "Midnight Meat Train" is a typical Clive Barker film; full of plot holes, usual descent into madness and an ending on the "fantasy train". The film's plot sure feels more aimed at a literary style and not as a film experience; it proved too flimsy and stretched out. It's just that when you've seen one Barker flick--it feels like you've seen them all. The problem is, "Midnight Meat Train" didn't scare me or served up suspense at all--the impression it left is just how cool it looked.
Recommended with caution, rent it first [3- Stars]
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The Midnight Meat Train is a 2008 horror film based on Clive Barker's 1984 short story of the same name, which can be found in Volume One of Barker's collection Books of Blood. The film follows a photographer who attempts to track down a serial killer dubbed the "Subway Butcher" and discovers more than he bargained for under the city streets.
The film was directed by Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura and stars Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones and Brooke Shields. Its script was adapted by Jeff Buhler, the producer was Tom Rosenberg of Lakeshore Entertainment, and it was released on August 1, 2008.