Bradley Cooper and Leslie Bibb are a banging hot couple who live in a spacious apartment in the middle of New York City. This despite the fact Cooper is a struggling photographer and Bibb is a waitress at a shitty diner. Don’t get hung up on the unlikeliness of this setup or you’ll have an even harder time suspending disbelief later on. Yeah, I know I’ve raved about less believable movies than this one, but context is important and Midnight Meat Train wants you to believe every bit of it.
Early on, Cooper is introduced to a painfully shallow (and painfully stereotypical) art gallery manager, played by Brooke Shields, who informs him his art isn’t brave enough to interest anyone. Wounded by the critique, he roams the streets at night looking for the darkest, most dangerous photographs he can get. The first great photograph, according to Shields, depicts the attempted rape of a woman by subway thugs. Three more pictures like that, she says, and Cooper will earn a spot in her next gallery.
Later, Cooper learns what the audience already knows: the woman he photographed boarded a subway train and never got off. It turns out a mysterious man in a suit and tie (Vinnie Jones) butchers passengers on the train every night. What is he doing with the bodies? Where is the train going? Who the hell is he? Those questions are kind of answered by the end, but the answers feel more like excuses than reasons—excuses for showing a bunch of mayhem without substance.
I only vaguely remember the original story from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, which is odd considering I distinctly remember so many of the other stories from that volume. If memory serves me correctly, it was a good horror story squeezed in between a bunch of great ones. To be fair, I’m frequently underwhelmed by adaptations of Barker’s work even though I can’t get enough of them. I’m just curious why the filmmakers chose this story over some of the others in the series (cheapest to film, perhaps?).
This isn’t the first time I tried this movie. On my most recent viewing, I was admiring the adult characters and serious tone, trying to remember why I hadn’t finished it the first time. Then it happened: Ted Raimi makes a cameo (usually a good thing) in which the butcher hits him in the back of the head so hard it sends Raimi’s eyeball flying at the camera. Sure, that sounds cool, but the CGI employed here is about as convincing as the effects used in the Lionsgate logo. The problem is rarely the CGI itself, it’s the way it’s used… use it to show me something that’s literally impossible to film. Don’t use it to put practical effect wizards out of work.
When the movie isn’t going full Matrix with its gore, it looks great and the performances are better than this script deserves. I love these kinds of high concepts, and I love characters who are helplessly drawn to the shadows, but the story just failed to excite me. It’s a shame, too, because there are some very watchable moments here. I especially liked Bibb’s acting when she realizes her lover is going insane.