Fresh Meat (New Zealand, 2012)
Fresh Meat is a violent, kinetic comedy from New Zealand that uses a number of horror movie tropes without ever aiming to scare. Particularly, it’s about a family of suburban cannibals. I didn’t set out to make cannibalism the theme of the month, but here we are again. Maybe I need more meat in my diet. There’s certainly plenty of raw, bloody meat on offer here — hell, it’s even in the title — but I’m still unable to decide if it’s to my taste.
Rina, a teenage girl from a Māori family, has come home from boarding school, and is barely through the door when she discovers a human hand in the fridge. It transpires that her academic theologian father and cookery writer mother have found common ground in the resurrection of a 19th-century cannibal cult and have been cheerfully eating people for some time. Her little brother has recently joined in, and his role is bringing home the bipedal bacon. Before Rina has a chance to process this, however, things become even more complicated.
Running parallel is another, slightly more bullet-strewn family drama. Paulie Tan has broken his murderous brother Ritchie out of police custody. He is aided by Ritchie’s gun-happy girlfriend, Gigi, and Johnny, who, as we discover early on in a scene involving dynamite, is blessed with more enthusiasm than brains. Things go a bit From Dusk Till Dawn for the fugitives as car trouble leads them to seek shelter with Rina’s family, taking them hostage. From this point on it is only a matter of time until someone gets carved up, and as Rina starts falling for Gigi, she has to try to disrupt her family’s plans to eat her would-be girlfriend.
Fresh Meat is not an overly original film, but I’m not sure it sets out to be. Its main goal is to be funny, and in this it is sometimes successful. This is a film that will try to get laughs any way it can and has no sense of shame about it. Some of the jokes about racial politics are unexpectedly nuanced (“Oh, we’re not Māori cannibals. We’re just cannibals that just happen to be Māori.”) but at the same time this is a film that expects us to find it funny that a gang leader spends half his screen time wearing women’s underwear. Much of the comedy is slapstick, but it’s often fun, bloody slapstick, and it hits the mark (usually with a severed leg) more often than not. When I discovered that director Danny Mulheron had worked with Peter Jackson on Meet the Feebles, another scattershot film unconcerned with good taste, I felt like much had been explained.
While Fresh Meat is intermittently successful as a comedy, no one should watch it expecting a horror film. This is no Shaun of the Dead fusion of genres, but a farce about a family that eats human flesh. There is a fair bit of gore, and certainly more than enough violence to go round, but the result is more off-colour Loony Tunes than anything else. There is the occasional unnerving moment, such as when the family begin chanting prior to turning the tables on their captors, but these are rare.
After watching more than my share of badly acted films this month, I did find the professionalism of Fresh Meat refreshing. These are not understated performances, and Temuera Morrison chews the scenery like it was a human hand, but they suit the film perfectly. The gore effects are similarly impressive, with pleasing amounts of disembowelment and dismemberment, and the camera work is suitably frenetic. Fresh Meat is a slick film, if an uneven one.
If nothing else, Fresh Meat is pacey. If the often crass humour appeals to you, the 90 minutes you spend watching it will go by quickly. For a comedy, gore fans will still find plenty of blood to wade through. Some of the humour jarred me badly, but I suppose this is a risk when going for bad taste. The trailer does a reasonable job of conveying the tone of the film, so I’ll leave you with that to help you decide if it’s the kind of film for you.