Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"The Midnight Meat Train" Review "Choo! Choo! Gurgle, gurgle."

I rented "The Midnight Meat Train" (great title!) because it was taken from a Clive Barker anthology that my brothers owned (they read everything, including horror). I read part of the book as a child and liked some of Barker's creepy stories. Though I'm pretty tough on new horror flicks, I think this one did a good job.

It seems like most modern horror films (mid-90's to now) make all the same mistakes; "The Midnight Meat Train" is not one of those movies. Ultimately, my feelings about it are similar to what I felt for "Being John Malkovich" - a good movie that I really didn't like. Watching "MMT" was reasonably fun, and the many good qualities of the flick are obvious; I can recommend it, but don't want to see it again.

The story is simple: dedicated photographer (Bradley Cooper of "Alias," "The Wedding Crashers") walks the streets at night for his artistic project. He finds a pack of subway thugs robbing a woman and stops them. But the next day's newspaper says that she's a famous model, and never made it home. This somehow leads him to find a creepy, imposing man (Vinnie Jones), with whom he develops a "Rear Window" type of obsession. His fine girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) is worried. Horror ensues.

This movie deserves a lot of credit. It is fine technically, and compare well against most american horror over the last decade. It has great camera work, excellent edits & pacing at the climax, and a fairly original story. It's the kind of movie where the camera doesn't zoom in on fights until you can't see anything. And since "MMT" has Vinnie Jones (football thug and Guy Ritchie favorite), there must be fight scenes.

This film also gets a lot right. It deserves respect as a modern horror film that isn't crazy for the new "Hostel"-style gore. Every movie I've seen with ANY graphic gore usually revels in it excessively; here, it's used sparingly. Even better, "MMT" creates real tension - few modern horror films actually create tension/suspense, or fear.

And though it keeps to the modern trend of no nudity, it doesn't follow the WB network/post-"Scream" motif all the way - it does this with an emotionally intense sex scene. Most modern horror that lacks nudity also completely ignores the huge link between sex and death; a "Dawson's Creek"-style kissing scene with two generic/bland teens does NOT build atmosphere. [On the flipside, if I were an actress, I wouldn't wanna get naked for no damn reason either]

The pic does get a few things wrong. It's very hard to connect with the characters, and I'm not sure if it's the acting or the script. Most of what the leads' do makes so very little sense (they get 3/10 on my "darwin scale"). And I saw the whole conclusion coming at least 50 minutes early (I'm nifty that way).

Finally, the story is very bare. This is a movie in which *any* real clue as to what's happening or why comes at the very end; nor is enough of this decently implied by what you're shown before the end. That style may work for Lars von Trier or P.T. Anderson, but in horror it either works or it doesn't. For me, with "MMT," it didn't.

The negative points may be passable, because almost all horror operates with a few things pre-determined for the story (& audience). What types of cliches are at issue here?

Well, characters in horror *usually* have oddly-exaggerated emotions. Ex: "Darling, I told you twice already: I! HATE! MUSTARD! I'm gonna almost beat you now!"

They also have some kind of ludicrous coincidence. Ex: "Satan's personal Bible is in the basement? Funny - I speak Aramaic! We can stop the spell!"

Also, at least twice, characters will do something wholly senseless. Ex: hero runs home to save the love interest instead of calling ahead to warn. OR if there aren't totally senseless actions, there will be 2+ totally senseless plot points.

All of those cliches exist here, though silly coincidence is kept minimal. If you like horror, rent it, you'll likely enjoy it.

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