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quick film review: Midnight Meat Train (Ryûhei Kitamura, 2008)

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Jun. 22nd, 2011 | 09:56 pm

I've been watching more horror films recently than I ever did when I was younger. I was quite a sensitive child - even reading the blurb on the back of a James Herbert book gave me nightmares, and when some older kids showed me the dog scene in The Thing, well. Nowadays... well, it's just blood and bits isn't it? Perhaps it was sharing with all those medical students, or maybe it's the internet, but nasty gory stuff just doesn't have much of a disturbing effect any more. Also, there are some quite inventive, fantastical horror films, and let's face it, decent fantasy films in general are quite hard to come by.

Anyway, I heard about Midnight Meat Train, which is based on a Clive Barker story, and had some praise posted for it, and also has Vinnie Jones as a central "character" (in many ways the ultimate typecast Vinnie Jones role - hugely violent and completely taciturn). However, I wasn't left all that satisfied.

Non-spoiler pros:

* Performances are decent; the characters aren't immensely deep but the actors do what they can. The protagonist reminded me a bit of Steve Gutenberg unfortunately but I got past that.
* It's well shot, moodily lit (possibly too moodily at times; see cons) and has some nice old New York scenery.
* It's not gory all the time but it does intersperse the main story with some pretty serious gore scenes with good effects, which are also well shot. (I don't think I'm giving much away by saying this. The title should have alerted you to the possibility. In fact, the three words do rather sum up a lot of the plot, though events actually take place just after 2am.)

Non-spoiler cons:

* Sometimes the lighting is just too moody. Watching it on an iPad, there was at least one scene where I had to rewind and pause several times to try to see what was meant to have happened to someone, and I _still_ couldn't work it out.
* There are some very half-arsed effects near the end.
* The ending just isn't satisfying. The deeper you go into the plot - and it's not a complex plot - the more you think "well that part is obviously going to be explained" and it just _isn't_. I think maybe I've become a lot pickier about plot holes from all this time watching modern serials, where it's _expected_ that loose ends will be tied up and details will have explanations, and when they don't, fandom complains. And also, some of the things that happen to the main character... well, yes, I can see the basic symmetry going on but really it could have been more convincing.

Spoiler section

Okay, so: there are lizard people under the city, and people are feeding them, and have been for generations. Who has been feeding them? There's some sort of conspiracy involving the police, fine, but what? You only see two people involved and clearly it can't have been them over all the years. A cult? _Why_ are they feeding them? It's briefly mentioned that it's important for some reason to "keep the two worlds separate" but why?

What are all the nodules all over Vinnie Jones' chest? What are those supposed to be? A disease, fungus, turning into a lizard? Why is he so superhumanly strong - lifting people up to the ceiling, twice? Why is the train driver superhumanly strong as well, throwing photographer bloke around? Are they hybrids? Are they energised by lizard smells? What?

More significantly... fair enough, the investigator beats the butcher but ends up replacing him as the new butcher. As I said, there's symmetry there. But the transformation needs to be a _lot_ better than that. He's been fighting the whole setup all through the film, increasingly aggressively, getting quite horribly injured, and he then sees his girlfriend being murdered and her heart ripped out, and what - he suddenly realises that this is a good idea? If his will has completely been broken by the latter experience, that might potentially be an explanation, but it's really not expressed. Or maybe the strange marks he got are part of a hypnotic spell or infection, maybe similar to the original butcher's, which could explain the nodules. But come on - _something_. Don't make me fill this in.

(Also the lizards at the end are really disappointing, even though you can barely see them in the light. Better to leave them as isolated flashing bits of flesh-ripping alien movement.)

What I think annoys me is that I can see ways that the inconsistencies could have been easily and quickly explained, without even lengthening the film. Just a few words added would have been enough... it all could have basically made sense. But they weren't there and it didn't. Perhaps they're there in the original story.

Oh well. Maybe nowadays I've swapped sensitivities from horrific ideas and gore to plot holes and poor explanations.

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