Thai gore cinema has been really coming on of late, arguably achieving same giddy heights as the Hong Kong industry during height of the category III boom in the early 1990s thanks to films such as the “Art of the Devil” series and others. And so, appropriately enough the genre now gets its first proper “Untold Story” style noodle shop cannibalism film in the succulent form of “Meat Grinder” from “The Fatality” director Tiwa Moeithaisong. Far from being a low budget shlockfest, the film boasts fine production values and a cast of proper actors, including actress Mai Charouenpura from “The Legend of Suriyothai” in the psychotic lead role.
Charouenpura stars as Buss, a woman in 1970s Thailand who has led a particularly harsh life and is somewhat disturbed as a result, hearing voices in her head and being tormented by visions. Having been taught some pretty dubious and unconventional food preparation and cooking skills by her mother, she decides to open up a noodle stall, using the body of a man left over from a riot as the prime ingredient. Soon enough, the customers are turning up in droves for her delicious wares, and life is starting to look good after a nice young man takes an interest in her. However, her past comes back to haunt her, and as her mental state breaks down yet more people end up on the chopping block or hanging up on meat hooks in the basement.
“Meat Grinder” certainly gets right down to business, with an unfortunate young man having a leg cut off and then being nailed to the floor through his fingernails in gruesome close up. This provides a very good indication of where the film is going, and it proceeds to really serve up the gore groceries, packing in dismemberment, decapitation, evisceration and plenty of scenes of unknowing people enjoying their cannibal treats. A few splashes of CGI blood aside, the make up effects are all of a very high standard, and the film is genuinely stomach churning in places, even for jaded gorehounds. Although wouldn’t be fair to lump it in with the so-called torture porn subgenre, which is rapidly becoming a byword for low budget dullness, the film is certainly very cruel, and believes in keeping its victims alive and in grotesque situations for long periods of time.
What may come as a surprise is that “Meat Grinder” is actually a very well made film, with good production values and some handsome visuals. Moeithaisong’s direction is atmospheric and mature throughout, with some excellent use of colour and shadow, and this gives the film both a more professional feel and more impact to its many visceral scenes. The proceedings also benefit from an impressive soundtrack, which is by turns haunting and melancholic. Amusingly, the score is quite often put to quite bizarre use, for example during a five minute montage which switches between her slowly cutting up corpses and her sharing a tender love scene, all set to a romantic song.
In addition to the carnage, the film also has a more serious side, with Moeithaisong giving the drama a real sense of place, and creating an air of violence and chaos through the riot scenes, backed by real life footage. Similarly, the film makes a welcome attempt at character study, working in themes of mental illness and the mistreatment of women, with Buss’ behaviour being depicted as being part of an ongoing cycle of violence that she suffered as a child, and which she is now passing on to her own daughter. Charouenpura is excellent in the lead, and whilst her murderess is too cruel and crazy to really feel sympathy for, it does give the film a sense of depth, and it recalls at times the 2004 cannibalism Thai horror “Zee-Oui”. This does mean that the film is frequently pretty bleak and grim, though it does manage the odd scene of dark humour, at least for those with a taste for Grand Guignol.
Although “Meat Grinder” is obviously only a film for those with the strongest of stomachs, it is certainly nice to see some substance along with the splatter, and this elevates the film from being a mere gruesome freak show into something surprisingly engaging. A strange, though affecting mix of extreme gore and psycho character drama, it sees Moeithaisong continuing to carve himself a name as one of the top Thai genre practitioners and as a director to watch in the future.
Tiwa Moeithaisong (director) / Tiwa Moeithaisong (screenplay)
CAST: Mai Charoenpura