I saw this movie some months ago when it was available On Demand. The only reason I haven't reviewed it until now is that I just this moment was released from Intensive Care... the face rocking was one of the worst I've had in years.
Check it, you remember Die Hard's old tagline, "It'll blow you through the back of the theater?" Well, when I saw Ryûhei Kitamura's first feature, Versus, I was blown through the back of my basement. The only problem I had with it was length, but even that made it seem like something even more special - It's really just a 2 hour fight scene, more than anything else. Coming from the perspective of someone who's at least tried to shoot action scenes, this proved to me that Kitamura was the real f--kin' deal. He had the ability and determination to make something truly, truly f--king awesome, if only given the chance.
With The Midnight Meat Train, he got that chance, seized it, and beat its pretty face into a bloody, mangled mass of flesh.
From a short story by genre master (and damn good painter) Clive Barker, The Midnight Meat Train is precisely what it sounds like, only a lot more damn intense, all the damn time. Vinnie Jones plays Mahogany, a silent, huge man in a suit, who rides the subway trains. When it's just him and one or two other passengers, he takes out his extra bigass silver hammer of mise en scene, and smashes their damn faces in.
Lemme tell ya, you'll be hard-pressed to find any death scenes more vicious and beautifully stylized this side of '70s Argento. It's not so much that there's a lot of gore—and there is—it's more that that hammer wallops you just as much as the poor saps who get it. Again, Kitamura proves to the world how much ass he kicks, and just how hard he kicks it.
The story—and there is one, however late in the game it's divulged—is actually pretty cool. There's really good chemistry between hero Leon and Mohogany, and that's saying something, since Jones' performance is 100% physical. I suppose that's why the chemistry's there, though, since Leon is a strung out mess a lot of the time, quickly diving head first into that awesome giallo mindset of "I shouldn't be doing this - I'm endangering my life and the lives of my loved ones - Absolutely no good can come from this - I think I'll quit my job so I can focus on it." It's an easy concept to identify with, which I think is why it's utilized so often in horror flicks. Voice of reason be damned, I've got a crazy to catch.
God, this review is damn short, but I've said all I wanna say really. The film sticks with you, despite being mostly a kinetic, visceral affair. The production design and all that jazz are spot on and it's actually genuinely tense at times. The finale kicks all kinds of ass and it's got the kind of ending you'll be thinking about way down the line. The movie doesn't pull any punches, and more importantly than knowing what it wants to be, it is precisely what it wants to be. The Midnight Meat Train is a success, because it's only trying to be The Midnight Meat Train, and that's what it is in spades. Good show, Ryûhei.
Keep an eye out for Ted Raimi, too. God, he rules.
"The Midnight Meat Train" opens August 1, 2008 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura. Written by Jeff Buhler (screenplay), Clive Barker (story). Starring Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart.