Given that this month's the Lunar Seventh Month where the Chinese believe that spirits roam our world as their month long vacation from purgatory, my friend has so far kept this running joke about my unfortunate bumping into them given I spend my journey home on late night buses and trains. The Midnight Meat Train, as the title suggests, tells of the last train in the system where passengers inexplicably disappears, and I thought that Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura managed to put a somewhat refreshing spin to the entire slasher and torture porn genre.
Based on a short story by horror Meister Clive Barker, the story in parts looked like horror thrillers with recognizable moments like those in The Terminator, Shutter, and of course, Jeepers Creepers. If I were to have to take the last train, I definitely wouldn't want to bump into Vinny's sharp dressed Mahogany, a character who is almost like any other Vinny Jones character of being the muscleman. Here, he's a butcher with a penchant of waiting for the last train, and armed with nothing more than knives, meat hooks and his personal favourite, a meat tenderizer, he proceeds to chop up unsuspecting victims as the train seem to speed off into the unknown.
And there's where the story becomes intriguing, as it poses a lot of questions and doesn't provide you with any clear answers, until much later. You have to endure a slow buildup of Leon the photographer (Bradley Cooper) who in his quest to take the perfect picture for an exhibition, chances upon Mahogany and follows him for that Kodak moment. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and best friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) also get into the fray, and soon life for all three will be irrevocably changed. The payload for the movie comes at the back, and my, it's as satisfying a wrap as it can be, though again for those already familiar with some of the mentioned films, you'll more or less expect things to be done the way they did.
As mentioned earlier, what was a refreshing spin, was how direct and to the point the acts of violence got, without dragging the scenes out with needless, extended cries of mercy or lingering on gratuitous scenes of gore and blood, which torture porn flicks seem to continuous bog their movies with, that it becomes boring (Yes, I think you can sense that I'm already de-sensitized to such scenes). Rather than trying to craft creative ways to die in order to go one up against other movies that came before it, The Midnight Meat Train really went back to basics and simplicity, where killing blows are delivered swiftly, before proceeding with dismemberment.
While it is disturbing in itself, the distributors decided to shield local audiences from such violence and gore, and hence we got a censored M18 rated version, instead of full regalia under the R21 rating. The cuts were jarring enough, but in all fairness the quality of the movie cannot be judged by just how those scenes were removed with a butcher's knife. Going by detailed descriptions of the level of graphic violence contained in the movie, it seemed that we suffered from having a lot cut off.
The movie also boasted some really effective scenes of tension, and the anticipation of ill will especially with Vinny Jones looming nearby. The last time I remembered watching a major action sequence involving trains was in Batman Begins, and given that it has to live up to titular expectations, audiences were treated to some incredible all-out action scenes set in and around the train, with some really energetic camera movement and angles to complement the action on screen.
But technicalities aside, what really worked and will possibly elevate this film to cult status, will be portrayal and fleshing out the character of Mahogany as the no-nonsense and swift executioner, adding to the list of memorable villains to have graced the screen amongst the likes of the Freddies, Jasons and the Michael Myers of the cinematic world.