The horror movie is a dying species. Sure, there's a very steady stream of slick, sincerely rendered re-hashings of popular folk culture or Japanese re-makes trundling dutifully through your local cineplex.
Very few of these films ever bother to elevate themselves above the fray of their brethren, even playfully. They have little incentive to, as their primary audiences (I'm looking at you, shrieking teen girls in the back row) never ask for more--they merely digest the gore as an appetizer before walking out of the cinema and into the nearest Gap. For every film like The Descent or Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead re-make or 28 Days Later, there are ten films like The Haunting of Molly Hartley and Pulse.
And I wish I could say that The Midnight Meat Train did rise significantly above the latter films in the previous paragraph. Based on a Clive Barker short story, this one had potential.
Unfortunately, a lack of character exposition (and the empathy that inspires) and a disjointed plot make this another exercise in gore immersion. And that's a shame, because in places there's a palpable quality of the surreal (what Al Sarrantonio calls "irrealism" in 999) as our antagonist (one bad meat man, played by Vinnie Jones) culls and collects these nasty little polyps from all over his body.
A little cancer allegory would have been welcome. What we get, though, is far less menacing.
Jones plays the butcher here with ruthless efficiency. Bradley Cooper ain't half bad as Leon, our tortured protagonist, and Leslie Bibb (you'll recognize her) probably gives the best turn of all of them. We at least feel sorry for her in a couple of scenes.
But the train itself and why it runs every night, coupled with all of the disappearances in this extremely crowded portion of the city, is the story here, and that's where it all falls apart. There's a bit of the ol' ghost in the machine that fouls up a subterranean climax that has serious hints of Lovecraft. Had it better developed this plot vein, it might have transcended the clutter out there in the horror field.
The final verdict here is good, not great. It's worth a watch: B-.
So...where are they? Where are this year's Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth? Where's the next generation of quiet horror--our Rosemary's Baby and Watcher in the Woods?