Bradley Cooper did a horror movie? And I didn't know? And he was impressive in the movie? A hat trick of yes.
Cooper plays a budding photographer gagging for his 'big break' into professional photography. After his friend hooks him up with a major contact, and asks him to go deeper into the dark, sinister side of photography, this leads him down a path so unnerving and dangerous, he'll soon end up regretting it.
Suspense was practically stitched into the plot. As Bradley's character Leon becomes obsessed with capturing moments of sheer terror and unsettling confrontation, he ends up catching the attention of a dangerous looking man, played by none other than Vinnie Jones.
Mr Jones, based on his exterior, looks the part, and played it remarkably well. I've found with some of his roles, when he talks and intends to threaten and intimidate, it breaks the realism. However, he didn't utter a word throughout the whole movie. Which is explained in the epic climax.
As Leon becomes convinced this man is responsible for a series of subway killings, despite being armed with little evidence, he throws himself in harm's way many times. This has the viewer gasping repeatedly, questioning his intellect and common sense. If you suspect a man is a killer, why follow him?
As I say, Cooper plays crazy well. Too well. You can almost feel the desperation. He is obsessed. Reckless. He has no regard for his own safety. I loved him in this role, and would love to see him branch out and star in more horror movies. He was superb.
On a content level, the gore is tremendous. Horror gore fiends will have a field day with this film. Blood and guts are just for starters. I found myself cringing many times, and I thought I was basically immune to cringing at anything in a horror movie, having seen thousands of them.
An odd observation, but I myself can get slightly OCD when it comes to angles and symmetry. So I had an usual respect that few will have for the shots in the movie. There were some excellent angle shots and symmetrical masterpieces.
And for the most part, the movie's filter is dark and grungy, only adding to the disturbing, on-edge vibe that 'The Midnight Meat Train' exudes.
The subtle soundtrack only emphasizes this feel, working hand-in-hand with the colours, and strengthening the suspense. Horror movies can make the fatal mistake when incorporating a soundtrack. The loud boom suggests a surprise. Or a faster rhythm suggests something is coming. Here however, there were no clues or telltale signs that something was approaching. All shocks are unexpected. When Vinnie's character locks eyes with Leon, we shudder. That dude is scary.
And then there is the ending. Wow. I literally felt my mouth drop and my eyes widen. I had made brief guesses as to how the movie would end. I in no way saw this coming. Serial killer, maybe. Sick fetish, maybe. The actual way it ended, never saw it coming. It smacks you between the peepers.
A group of teens head off to Henry Island for a weekend of drinks, fornication, and general debauchery. But the fun comes to a screeching halt with the discovery of a body. From then on, things go from bad to disastrous.
If you are a sub-genre snob and have the false impression this novel is a generic island horror with the usual teen cast from a cheesy slasher flick, you'd be gravely mistaken. This plot is thoroughly thought-out. The characters are so well characterized, they could be real people. The shocks are delivered with expert precision. The mystery thickens with every page, becoming more unnerving, yet alluring. We are spellbound to the pages, needing to know who is responsible and why. But in-between this investigation completed by our protagonist Meg, more bodies turn up under strange circumstances. Were they actually accidents? Or is something more at work here?
Gretchen takes what could be stock characters, and molds them into believable people with justifiable behavior and motivations. Meg, our central character, smart, beautiful, and an all-around do-gooder. She, unlike most teens there, plans to lock herself away in the bedroom and get some journal writing done or work on her laptop, being a writer and all. You can't help but love Meg, a great role model and a character with extra bite.
Next, we have her best friend Minnie, who for me personally, was irritating as hell, until the conclusion to the story reveals everything....
We have a few guys, ranging from nice and chivalrous, to the typical aggravating jerks. The same rules go for the other girls. Pleasant, or intolerable.
A house full of teens is bound to result in drama of some sort, and most are already headed to the island with baggage, both literally and figuratively. So you know it's gonna get good, even without the darker side of the weekend inevitably veering the partying off course.
The author catches us off-guard with the bodies, and other morsels of information, enticing the reader continually until she smacks us in the face with a stellar ending.
When said and done, the ending reminded me of the new hit show on Netflix, '13 Reasons Why', but with a vengeance. You'll understand what I mean when you enjoy this novel.
Also, there were elements of the TV show Harper's Island, which I loved. An island horror with subterranean depths.
All in all, Gretchen McNeil takes a sub-genre of horror and adds her own secret ingredients: a sprinkle of mystery, a dollop of death, and a dash of drama, all iced in a tightly and neatly structured prose that flows effortlessly.
I highly urge all readers to grab a copy of this one. For those who don’t enjoy unnecessary gore or overly graphic scenes, don’t worry, this isn't overly gory. There is just enough, all of which is appropriate for the shock-factor.
It's all about the characters and the plot, but bodies are weaved into the plot, along with buckets of suspense.
My first McNeil mystery, but I promise, it won't be my last.
Bestselling horror author, marketer, blogger, reviewer, business owner, freelance writer.