Friday, February 13, 2009

Movie #19: Midnight Meat Train (2009)

Clive Barker rarely gets a fair shake in Hollywood.

Horror writers usually don't; too often the scales seem to tip toward low-budget, poorly written adaptations - sometimes by the authors themselves. Barker had a triumph with his directorial/screenwriting debut of HELLRAISER, but NIGHTBREED (based on the excellent novella Cabal) was a bit of a let down and LORD OF ILLUSION (based on another excellent novella, The Last Illusion) was a major disappointment. Part of the reason lies squarely with the content of his fiction - dark, laced with sexuality and fantasy, most of it is hard to peg in one particular genre. Which is great for the writing, but not typically so hot for the movies.

So what a huge surprise at how satisfying MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is. Based on the short story of the same name, the film is a short, solid stab to the heart that laces its dread with some striking visuals, plenty of gore, and an ending that is apologetically dismal. Bradley Cooper, forever for me the lovesick puppy in the television show Alias shows he can control the screen as a lead. He plays Leon, a photographer trying and failing to capture the true image of the city he lives in. One night he captures on film and thwarts a gang attempting to rob a fashion model. He leaves her as she get on board the subway, the door held open by a large, well-dressed man with a strange ring on his finger. When the papers explain that she's gone missing, Leon is drawn both by his curiosity and his compuslion to capture the city into a deeper mystery that not only encompasses the stranger on the train, but perhaps the entire city. Needless to say his discovery of the true face of the city is a face in retrospect no one should have to see.

The set-up is fairly straightforward, but part of what makes it work is the marriage between Barker's tone - his relentless drive to push you into the viscera, force you to wipe the blood from your face and see what he wants to show you, and the visual style of director Ryƻhei Kitamura. After a string of low-budget but highly stylized Asian films Kitamura's first American offering moves at a nice pasce, not resorting to flashy, MTV cutting but rather holding frames and drawing tension from the circumstances of the plot.

Supposedly MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN has had a lot of trouble with the studios (lost in the shuffle as THE STRANGERS took the limelight instead), and that's a shame, because this is a small but effective horror that's plays very differently than the lukewarm offerings Hollywood's been putting in front of audiences for the past couple of years. The plan is to continue to use the same production company to film at least 4 more stories from Barker's Books of Blood series (where MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN came from). Here's hoping they're all given the same care.

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