FRESH MEAT (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
After recently getting some buzz at the Tribeca Film Festival (I didn’t think they even showed horror movies there), the New Zealand film FRESH MEAT (2012) got a small theatrical run and popped up on cable OnDemand. So I wanted to check it out for CinemaKnifeFight.com.
The basic plot, of criminals on the lam ending up in a house where things go from desperate to worse, has been done several times before, in movies such as Xavier Gens’ above-average scare flick FRONTIER(S) in 2007. Unfortunately, right off the bat, we get some comedic elements, as each member of the family which will later be taken hostage by criminals is introduced with “witty” comments onscreen, like the fact that over-achieving college student Rena Crane (Hanna Tevita)’s main interest in “Girls.” Or that her dad, Hemi (Temuera Morrison) is a college professor and author of several books, all of which are sadly unpublished. Are you laughing yet?
The onscreen words get even more clever when the bad guys are introduced. This begins with a prison truck carrying some dangerous criminals, including Ritchie Tan (Leand Macadaan) whose crimes include not just murder but “selling fruit without a license.” His rescue team, including his girlfriend Gigi (Kate Elliott), brother Paulie (Ralph Hilaga) and hired gun Johnny (Jack Sergeant-Shadbolt), shows up at a gas station where the prison van has stopped. After Johnny completely screws up with some dynamite trying to blow the truck’s doors open, and almost kills everyone involved, we learn via his onscreen intro that he is the “explosives expert.”
Escaped convict Richie is injured and has a broken/bleeding hand after Johnny’s attempt to “rescue” him, and his gang brings him to their car and takes off after a shootout with the prison guards. They then tear up the asphalt as they are part of a high-speed chase, being pursued by a police helicopter.
The fleeing criminals end up in a densely populated neighborhood and when they see the door to the Crane family’s garage is open, they drive in, to avoid being detected by the helicopter, and then proceed to take the family members inside hostage.
Meanwhile, Rena is home for school vacation and learns the troubling news that her dad and famous cooking show host mom Margaret (Nicola Kawana) have had a major epiphany and now are part of a cannibal cult that worships a boy prophet named Solomon Smith. Well, Dad seems obsessed with Smith and his teachings (that eating human flesh makes you immortal) and Mom just seems to find the meat especially delicious, and a key ingredient for some great recipes she’s trying out. They have also indoctrinated Rena’s brother Glenn (Kahn West) into their new lifestyle.
So it’s the criminals versus the cannibals. But where a movie like FRONTIER(S) took this subject matter into some pretty dark territory, FRESH MEAT can’t seem to decide whether it wants to have fun with it all, or take it seriously, which results in an uneven tone throughout. Some directors are great at combining comedy and horror, but for people who think it’s an easy trick to master, you could not be more wrong. Most people who attempt it, mess it up. And the director here, Danny Mulheron, gives us a mixed bag of presents – some we want, and some we could do without. Mulheron’s previous directing work was mostly in television, but one of his bigger credits was for being one of the writers and stars of Peter Jackson’s MEET THE FEEBLES (1989).
Let’s look at the pluses first. The cast for this one is pretty good. I especially liked college girl Rena and badass girl with a shotgun, Gigi, who slowly start to fall for one another (Gigi has a great look, with shorts and especially sexy stockings to match that pump-action shotgun of hers). Gigi might just be my favorite character here, and actress Kate Elliot previously had roles in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (which was shot in New Zealand), as well as several New Zealand television series. In fact, most of the cast come from New Zealand TV (and it’s amazing how many of them had roles in one of the many POWER RANGERS franchises, which I’m guessing were also shot on location there).
Maori actor Temuera Morrison, who plays Rena’s increasingly insane father, is kind of New Zealand acting royalty, having previous starred in the amazing 1994 drama ONCE WERE WARRIORS (which I suggest you seek out instead). He may be more recognizable to American audiences as the cloned warrior who became Boba Fett in the most recent STAR WARS movies EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) and EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). Morrison is a plus in FRESH MEAT, until his character gets more and more over-the-top in his behavior, becoming so unbearably unbelievable in the final act of the film, when he completely loses his mind, as to border on irritating.
There’s little suspense as the criminals invade the house and think they have the upper hand. We know it’s only a matter a time before the flesh-hungry family turns the tables on them. By the time geeky next door neighbor Shaun (Will Robertson) pops in, because he has a thing for Rena, and is invited to share the family dinner by Hemi, and then the cops show up, things degenerate from clever and well-acted to chaotic and just plain silly.
With a more assured hand to keep things sharp and smart until the end, FRESH MEAT could have been a tasty morsel for those who enjoy cannibal movies (there sure seem to have been a lot of them in recent years). As it is, it’s a clever, fun movie that runs out of ideas in the final act, and goes for complete anarchy instead of a satisfying conclusion.
I’m not really sure how this one got selected for the Tribeca Film Festival, but its festival pedigree made me expect something a lot better, and I was pretty disappointed with this one.
Not a complete loss, but not a complete success, either. I give this one two and a half knives.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives FRESH MEAT ~ two and a half knives!