Those who know my tastes know that I have a soft spot for Asian films, particularly of the Korean and Thai variety. But even though I’m predisposed to liking Thai horror films, I typically don’t like their gore-heavy entries. They have such a rich, superstitious culture worth delving into that it’s almost disappointing to watch them attempt to dabble in more Western flavors. MEAT GRINDER, however, is a captivating blend of Thai ideology, particularly of family relationships and the subservient role of women in the home, mixed with a sickening mastery of nasty make-up effects that look as though they’ve slipped out of the darker side of European horror. The title alone should give it away, but if you have a sensitive stomach, MEAT GRINDER will rip it out of your chest and make you eat it.
The initial setup seems a bit SWEENEY TODD-ish considering it involves a destitute woman who turns her rent-demanding landlord into a entree at her noodle shop, but though it’s easily marketed as such, Tiwa Moeithaisong’s film is a far cry from another cannibalistic cuisine movie. At its core MEAT GRINDER is about a, well, batshit insane woman who has taken all she can from the world. She’s been dealt a miserable hand in life and she’s finally broken. Unfortunately for the meddling men and women in her life, that means she’s probably going to break their lives, too. Don’t worry though, most of them have it coming.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. While most of the people she starts slicing and dicing are despicable human beings, it’s tough to say that any of them have “it” coming; “it” being some of the most grizzly horrors one can imagine the human body being put through. I’m always impressed at the special make-up effects that world class artists can deliver, but it’s rare that my mind is capable of suspending disbelief. Even if I’m never taken out of the movie, my mind is always registering what’s on screen as just a bit of movie magic. The difference between a lot of films and MEAT GRINDER is that there are a number of times where I can’t discern the magic behind the movie.
That’s not to say that the film achieves unprecedented levels of realism, just that Moeithaisong is wise enough not to relish in his gore. He uses it casually and dismissively, as if, for example, people hanging from hooks by their belly fat is just no big deal. The reason I hate most American gore flicks is because they’re made by clearly immature filmmakers who are so enthralled with finally being able to gross people out that they have to shove everything in your face. Call films of that ilk torture porn if you like, I don’t really care– whatever the label, the emphasis on plastering massive amounts of visual pain onto the viewer’s face just comes off as very single minded and mean spirited to me.
The killer in MEAT GRINDER is clearly not just a proxy for the director, however. She doesn’t delight in torturing her victims in the same way some filmmakers delight in torturing their audience. She’s just a crazy person who treats the people around her like they’re annoying bugs she can swat to the ground and then curiously dissect. The circumstances of her craziness, however, are surprisingly sympathetic, which is one of the main reasons that her vengeance is oddly understandable despite the extreme magnitude of it.
It’s not all rosey, though. The majority of the film is wonderfully photographed and scored, but there are a few editing tweaks here and there that just reek. It’s a bit jarring how quickly the film can change from professional horrors to amateur drama (Moeithaisong doesn’t appear to have the hang of/budget for showing chaos, so a few of the more visually hectic scenes suffer accordingly), but fortunately those bits are few and far between and they hardly define the film as a whole. What does define MEAT GRINDER, however, is its impressive ability to make the audience want to flee from and hug its villain simultaneously.