With a title like The Midnight Meat Train, the public might think he knows what awaits him. Hundreds of them come out every year, and they’re good entertainment. Disposable horror movies that deliver a unique thrill are great fun and a great deal. However, movies shouldn’t always be judged on their titles alone. It can be easy to miss a hidden gem.
With Bradley Cooper and Vinnie Jones, The Midnight Meat Train is much smarter than the title suggests. An adaptation of a Clive Barker story of the same name from his books of blood collection of stories, Cooper plays a photographer on the trail of a vicious serial killer on the subway who goes way too deep. Audiences won’t guess where this movie is going or how it gets there, and it’s definitely a movie for horror and thriller fans to watch.
The film opens with a lonely man waking up in a subway car, desaturated colors and strange sounds echoing through the car. As he gets up to investigate, he slips and finds himself lying in a pool of blood, the camera pans around and there is more blood on the walls and windows of the car. As the man scrambles to see into the next car, the camera pulls back to reveal a figure hunched over someone on the floor of the next cabin, wet chopping sounds filling the air.
Bradley Cooper plays photographer Leon who stumbles upon something he really should avoid. One night, after a gallery owner calls his job safe, Leon finds himself on the subway taking pictures of a sexual assault in progress. Although he saves the woman before things get even worse, it doesn’t paint Leon as the friendliest character from the start. When the woman goes missing, Leon ends up down a rabbit hole of other disappearances that have happened on the subway, and what he finds takes him to unexpected and gruesome places.
Ambulances and police chases are how Leon makes his money, but he longs for the big moment, and in his eyes, the only way to get it is to push deeper into the violent underbelly of the city. Meanwhile, on the subway, a man with a giant meat tenderizer smashes the skulls of unsuspecting passengers. In the first fully shown scene of him at work, horror mainstay Ted Raimi has his eyes physically gouged out of his head by a blow from the hammer-like instrument. As the man leaves the subway, Leon is there, taking pictures, and for some reason decides to follow him. He is discovered and apologizes, but not before noting the man’s distinctive ring, a ring he saw in the last photo he took of the missing girl.
A game of cat and mouse ensues. Leon’s obsession with the man grows, he follows him to his workplace after discovering that he is a butcher. He lines his apartment with photos of him, certain that he is at the center of the disappearances that are rampant in the city. As the film unfolds, it is discovered that the man’s name is Mahogany, the train driver is also involved in the murders. It is also revealed that Mahogany is sick, coughing up blood, and reveals in a photo of him at his home that his torso is covered in strange lesions.
As all of this unfolds, Leon changes. He becomes unstable, prone to tantrums, and dreams that he is the butcher of the train. Confirmed vegetarian, he also begins to eat meat. Cooper plays an excellent portrayal of a man slowly falling apart, knowing something is up but unable to prove it. A man who is also drawn to the violence he sees. Leon can’t help but keep following Mahogany. He needs to know what’s going on, who this man is, no matter if he ruins his own life in the process.
Filled with tension and an extremely meaty sound design, The Midnight Meat Train is an elegant horror-thriller that is elevated by the quality of the source material and the cast. Bradley Cooper gives his all for the role, but Leslie Bibb as his long-suffering and scared girlfriend Maya also shines throughout. Vinnie Jones is menacing as the hulking Butcher, an almost entirely silent portrayal of a gruesome murderer.
The Midnight Meat Train is a mixture of Seven and One hour photo, grim and relentless in its dark tone and depiction of madness, obsession and death. It’s hard not to be drawn into the mystery Leon found himself immersed in. Why are there so many missing persons cases along this particular metro line? Who is the butcher? More importantly, why is Leon so overwhelmingly drawn to him and the horror and mystery that surrounds him?
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