MINOR SPOILERS; watch the feature length film first if you do not want to know essential details concerning the plot here-contained.
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and based upon the 1984 short story of the same name by horror author Clive Barker, The Midnight Meat Train is considerably more than the sum of it’s parts and also much less schlocky than the dreadful (albeit, memorable) title would suggest. The film opens with a man waking up on a bizarrely sterile-looking train; he stands up and shortly thereafter slips and falls flat upon his back only to discover that what he slipped upon was an enormous pool of blood. The viewer is then greeted with the silhouette of man garbed in a darksuit, slaughtering a hapless passenger upon the same train.
Cut to Leon (played by Bradley Cooper), our protagonist, a handsome, keen eyed vegan photographer who craves the fame and adoration of the city’s art elite (the city is never named in the film, though it was shot in Los Angeles).
Leon’s principal passion is to photograph the life of the city where he lives in all its gritty and sometimes depressing detail and when his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb), helpfully asks a well-connected friend to get her lover in touch with a big-shot gallery owner (Brooke Shields), Leon is overjoyed.
The art-dealer however, finds Leon’s work to be lacking and tells him to delve deeper into the dark heart of the city. He does so and winds up embroiled in a century old cold case that centers around a mysterious butcher-turned-serial-killer with a distinctive silver ring.
The first thing that grabbed my attention about the film was its visual flair, it is incredibly well shot, with a good deal of grim night-shots wherein one is still able to tell what is going on, despite its rather modest budget (which again, just goes to show that one does not require Michael Bay levels of funding to make a excellent, or even simply passable, film). The second high point about the film was the atmosphere and pacing; unlike a great deal of late 2000s horror films that rely heavily on relentless jump-scares and fast and flashy editing (often to the point of incoherence), Midnight Meat Train dispenses with all of that and instead allows its action to unfurl in a slow-simmering fashion. When something dread inspiring occurs it is frightful not because it happened quickly, but because the character or characters that are imperiled are both well-established and allowed to breathe.
Shots are generally long and panning is often used, found-footagesque shaky cam effects are nowhere to be found (thankfully, having seen the seizure inducing mess that was Cloverfield I never want to watch another found-footage film ever again) and there is not a single jumpscare throughout the entire duration of the film (which is refreshing as that is, other than that annoying stock WFHOOSH noise which is often deployed when a killer or monster appears behind a horror movie character, the single most over-used and lazy ways of creating narrative drama).
The acting is also particularly good, Bradley Cooper (who was at the time the film came out, still relatively unknown to the broader public) is mesmerizing and intense as Leon and Vinnie Jones is also quite notable as the mysterious and brooding Mr. Mahogany; I shall say no more about Jones’ character for fear of spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it other than that he only has one line and yet is able to convey a considerable amount of emotion (or lack thereof) with nothing more than slight changes to his facial expression and posture (qua Alain Delon). The weakest link of the cast is, unfortunately, Leslie Bibbs’ Maya who, though a perfectly likable and believable character, seems to be delivering her lines out of sync with everyone else in the film (though it is certainly not a bad performance by any stretch, just the least impressive). Another slight problem arises in terms of the special effects, when large quantities of blood is shown flying through the air it is invariably rendered digitally and though rendered very well, the program used makes it all look quite uncanny-valleyesque which is to say: you know that it is supposed to be blood, but it looks too silky and shiny for you to viscerally react to it in the same fashion as when, in other scenes (such as the opening), certain characters are covered in, or standing on, a fake-blood liquid concoction. But that is quite a minor detail and is hardly so prevalent as to spoil the film.
I should say that if you are a fan of Clive Barker’s works or are merely interested in seeing a non-cliche work of horror with standout performances, fascinating set-pieces, excellent atmosphere and a great deal of emotion, then The Midnight Meat Train might just be something to look into.
Author’s note: I found many of the themes in the film interesting and worthy of elaboration but doing so would require revealing sensitive plot points, therefore, I’ll be writing up a more comprehensive analysis shortly.