Spelling bad news for Thai noodle houses everywhere, Meat Grinder arrives on UK shores. Yet there’s more than gore to this Far East shockfest. Mark Lee reviews.
Despite copious graphic depictions of outrageously perverse cruelty, nauseatingly realistic cannibalism, and oodles of bone-snapping, flesh-ripping, and meat-hook hanging, it’s a sad, despairing love story that forms the…ahem, meat of Tiwa Moeithaisong’s gory shocker, Meat Grinder. It’s perhaps this fact, combined with a myriad of themes that are explored in this explicit gorefest, which allowed the movie to pass through the tight, gloomy corridors of the BBFC without a cut. For those who have experienced the shredded remains of precious horror flicks that have emerged from the BBFC’s heavy cuts of years gone by (let alone the movies which have been banned outright), the film stands as a blood-drenched milestone for extreme horror releases in the UK.
Our demented Thai love story centres around the troubled Buss, a character vividly brought to life with frightening ease by the attractive Mai Charoenpura (an accomplished Thai musician too, for you fact fans). After getting caught up in the centre of a political student riot, she is semi-reluctantly led into an alleyway by kindly Attapon, and despite her hardened shell, she unwittingly forges an unspoken bond with the young man. After the riots have cleared, Buss discovers a dead man in her noodle cart, and, before you know it, she’s on a depraved mission to serve up the finest noodle dishes in all of Thailand, albeit with a secret meaty ingredient. Soon, she’s slicing, dicing, and stuffing unfortunate (but sometimes deserving) victims, marinating them in the spices required to serve up a delicious Thai noodle meal, before serving them to her appreciative and ravenous customers. Cue a blood-drenched orgy of some of the most gut-wrenching horror ever committed to celluloid.
Director/writer/editor/cinematographer Moeithaisong exploits some well known techniques in crafting this shocking yarn. The integration of depressing real life footage of rioting and police brutality maintains the edgy shock factor, whilst the gruesome special effects are eye-wateringly realistic. The filming methods ensure the movie maintains pace, with a consistently imaginative and thoughtful approach. Sometimes this provides rich visual rewards; the upward shots of Buss plunging her head into a barrel of water to escape her moments of misery are as disturbing as they are serene, the train track sequences are dreamy and strange, and the upsetting moment where she is torturously soaked as buckets of blood are thrown over her – shot in black and white with the blood depicted in vivid crimson – are nothing short of stunning.
Yet other shots betray the depth of the piece. The blurry high-speed chaos scenes during the riot are shot so quickly as to be irritating, whilst the opening black and white sequence feels mistimed; too brutal, too quickly.
For any technical deficiencies or misguided filming tricks, the rich swell of themes explored in Meat Grinder is what makes the movie so engaging. Founded on the Thai obsession with good food, and its vital, life-affirming role, the story slowly unravels to introduce themes of love, guilt, abuse, betrayal (both perceived and real), anger, loss, paranoia, and other mental health issues, not to mention the stark social imbalance between the genders, and the channel this opens for abuse. The truth of the cyclical nature of abuse becomes increasingly and depressingly apparent, and in a world where men abuse their physical strength to satisfy their own selfishness, women, so frequently abused, find channels to distribute abuse of their own (albeit with an eventual retreat to the familiar depths of guilt). Yet the picture leaves you confused and grappling with your own sense of morality; you feel the pain of Buss’s perceived betrayal, express relief when she evades the probing police questioning, and experience her mental agony as she desperately tries to seize a firm footing in a world that is fluid and dangerous.
The likelihood is that seldom few will choose to experience the thematic elements of Moeithaisong’s shocker, and it would be disingenuous to ignore the liberal amounts of explicit and graphic gore that forms the visual lifeblood of this piece. The supremely well executed violence is as inventive as it is cruel, and if unflinching views of dismemberment, torture, and live human marinating may make you feel queasy, then I’d strongly advise you to steer clear. For all of the graphic über-violence though, the scenes of child cruelty are without question the most distressing, and whilst central to the plot, these sequences will perhaps prove the most testing, even for ardent fans of extreme horror.
Despite the irrelevant and misleading comparison to Saw on the cover of this release, Meat Grinder is a completely different dish, serving up a potent quotient of the grotesque, the graphic, and the gory. The performances in this extreme horror tale are notably strong (including Mai Charoenpura’s impressive lead role, Rattanaballang Tohssawat’s likeable Attapon, and Duangta Tungkamanee – gleefully demented as Buss’s uncompromising matriarch), in a genre where flat and unimaginative performances are often the expectation, and though the fast pace and buzzing combination of filming techniques can sometimes feel overwhelming, the inventive and snappy approach – which includes flashes of humour of the blackest variety – maintains the interest despite the over-extended running time. A couple of carefully executed scenes deliver a surprising and genuinely gripping sense of drawn-out tension amongst the rivers of viscera, with the carefully constructed climax making for a satisfying conclusion. There’s even an extremely bizarre love-making scene which uses a Don’t Look Now-esque approach, flicking between the copulating couple and some live flesh chopping! Meat Grinder is outrageous, cruel, gory, sickening, and shocking, and the fact that it is brutally exploitative is without question. Yet with its infusion of a plethora of compelling themes, and with a lead character that draws you inexorably into her disgusting and depraved world, those who enjoy a rich portion of mental stimulation with their serving of extreme horror will find this a nauseating yet ultimately nutritious meal.
It’s important to note that I viewed a screener disc from 4Digital Media, and as such I can’t confidently comment on the quality of the actual release. The image on the disc was certainly not the quality I would expect, with the darker shades appearing heavy and causing a lack of separation. The image was grainy, but even on this copy the colours appeared strong, a compliment to the efforts that Moeithaisong has put into the cinematography and overall direction. Looking at some screen shots on the web, the final image appears to be fine, with clarity and definition, but I can only report upon what I’ve viewed personally.
The release is encoded with region 2, and arrives on a single disc. The anamorphic presentation has an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the image stays consistent throughout, without any noticeable distortion.
English subtitles are included (and I’m only guessing that what I’ve seen will be identical to the release), and the translation works well on the whole. I did spot a couple of minor errors, including a missing space after a full stop.
I don’t want to comment too much on the quality of the audio reproduction, as the screener copy may not be representative of the final release. However, the soundtrack itself compliments the movie well, with its eclectic combination of beautiful violin themes, upbeat electronica, and bizarre Thai love songs.
Voices are generally clear and distinct, with audio levels well balanced.
The disc includes the original Thai trailer, plus a ‘making of’ documentary.
The trailer is typically revealing and graphic, and should not be viewed before the feature itself.
I can’t comment on the ‘making of’ documentary as it didn’t appear on the review copy I received, but any insight into the impressive effects behind this picture would be warmly welcomed.
Tiwa Moeithaisong’s brutally obscene flesh-carver finally arrives on UK shores via 4Digital Media, and guarantees to turn the stomachs of even the most desensitised of extreme horror fans. Presenting a controversial prospect thanks to its graphic portrayal of torture and cannibalism, the full-on shock elements of this Thai bloodbath will overshadow the intriguing underpinning themes which flow consistently at the heart of the depraved romance. With a ‘making of’ featurette and trailer included, Meat Grinder comes highly recommended for those who like their Far Eastern horror in extremely brutal, uncompromising, yet thoughtful fashion, but for anyone outside of this bracket, the movie will perhaps prove too disturbing to be enjoyed.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum