Review first published at Cinetalk.
It may open in the respectable-sounding St Agnes School for Young Maori Ladies, but less than a minute of Danny Mulheron’s Fresh Meat has elapsed before there has been a slo-mo schoolgirl lesbian shower scene. Rina Crane (Hanna Tevita) may have been sent to St Agnes by her overprotective father Hemi (Temuera Morrison) to maintain her virginal purity, but she has her own ways of keeping clean – which is to say that the film, directed by the co-writer of Meet the Feebles (1989), wastes no time in announcing itself as politically incorrect exploitation fun.
In what follows, a group of badass criminal fugitives will come crashing into the suburban home of the Cranes, not realising that the members of this middle-class Maori family just happen to be practising cannibals. Mulheron will bring a gently satirical touch to the ensuing ultraviolent mayhem, running his carnal comedy along the twin axes of gender and ethnicity. For while on the one side hoodlum brothers Ritchie (Leand Macadaan) and Paulie Tan (Ralph Hilaga) and their explosives ‘expert’ Johnny (Jack Sergent-Shadbolt) all vie for the position of their gang’s top dog, and on the other side Hemi tries to assert himself as head of his household and self-appointed ‘high priest’ in his anthropophagous cult, these ridiculous men are consistently and effortlessly outclassed by the women around them, be it Ritchie’s no-nonsense girlfriend Gigi (Kate Elliott), or the professionally sidelined Hemi’s altogether more successful wife Margaret (Nicole Kawana), or even the teen Rina, who in one sequence literally takes a bloody bite out of rape-happy phallocentrism. While the brothers may battle pathetically for supremacy, ultimately the sisters will do it for themselves, turning their backs on patriarchy for good.
Meanwhile, amidst all the butchery, conflicting notions of New Zealand identity are also carved up, as Hemi plays the race card to cover his own glaring inadequacies as an academic, writer and father, while Rina’s all-white vegetarian admirer Shaun (Will Robertson) proves so PC that he will willingly eat meat, and even allow himself to be eaten, rather than cause perceived offence to his Maori hosts. So while Mulheron’s film works perfectly well as an over-the-top caper-like clusterfuck of clashing values and transgressive tropes, it also has just enough locally sourced meat on the bone to emerge with its own peculiar textures and flavours.