The Midnight Meat Train

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

The Midnight Meat Train first published by EyeforFilm, 24 Oct, 2008

Every night around the witching hour, in the tunnels deep under LA’s streets, the late train takes an unscheduled detour – and anyone unlucky enough to be riding in its carriages is about to meet Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) – a sharply dressed butcher with an old-fashioned haircut and a leather briefcase full of the tools of his trade. For them, there will be no going back.

The Midnight Meat Train

Meanwhile, encouraged by gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) to get closer to his gritty urban subjects, vegetarian photographer Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper) has begun venturing out late at night to the city’s darker quarters, in search of something dangerous to snap. It is not long before he has found Mahogany, and suspecting the butcher’s involvement in a spate of disappearances, he begins to stalk him day and night – to the antiquated hotel where he lives, to the meat plant where he works, and even to the underground – desperate to capture his atrocities on film (whether as evidence or art). Alarmed by his increasingly obsessive behaviour, Leon’s long-suffering girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) tries to pull him back from the brink – but with both the police and Mahogany closing in, Leon may already have embarked on his one-way trip to the underworld.

If The Midnight Meat Train starts with what sounds like a bog-standard serial killer premise, it quickly deviates into more uncharted terrains. Adapted from a short story from Clive Barker‘s Books Of Blood, it is a monstrous psychothriller traveling from Death Line (1972) to Switchblade Romance (2003) via Blowup (1966), Angel Heart (1987) and Ab-normal Beauty (2004) – and while a rational (if convoluted) explanation remains available for everything that happens in it, in the end it veers decisively off-track towards the insanely irrational, leaving viewers groping in the dark to find their way back to ground-level normality. It is an ambiguity perhaps best encapsulated by the film’s key image of an underground railway track that divides between two tunnels. For The Midnight Meat Train itself offers two distinct pathways through its narrative network, the one conventional, the other altogether less-traveled, the one psychological, the other supernatural – but both will bring the viewer to essentially the same infernal destination.

It may have something to do with the fact that he is not required to utter any lines, but this is without question Vinnie Jones’ finest turn on film. The unforgettable (and repeated) sight of him holding up a large slaughtering hammer for the fatal blow promises all manner of visceral thrills which are duly delivered with unhinged enthusiasm.

The Midnight Meat Train

Yet while there is plenty of charnel-house gore on offer here to please aficionados of the horror genre, there are also real (or at least mostly real) characters, complicated psychological motivations, and uncanny equivocations that remain unresolved right to the very end of the line. Wrapping it all up are the noirishly Lynchian visuals created by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Arigami), here directing in Hollywood for his first time. The result is a stylishly bloody descent into madness, murder and Hell itself.

The Midnight Meat Train is superior horror – a diabolical thrill-ride with both real meat on the bone and tunnel vision of an altogether satisfying kind. So get on board, and disappear down into its dark heart.

strap: In Ryuhei Kitamura’s serial killer psychothriller, a photographer travels parallel narrative tracks in the LA metro

Anton Bitel