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Tribeca Review: Fresh Meat

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Before interviewing director Danny Mulheron and actress Kate Elliott about Fresh Meat, I was talking to another film blogger/journalist about the movie. She  brought up the idea of brew and views with her friends: double features involving fun, goofy, kitschy, and/or cheesy movies. Fresh Meat definitely qualifies for that.

In a couple ways, Fresh Meat is just the sort of movie I would have rented in high school and subjected my friends to on weekends. It has gore, violence, nudity, lesbianism, tasteless humor, Asian jokes, and cannibalism, and those are its finer qualities.

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Fresh Meat: Trailer

Fresh Meat
Director: Danny Mulheron
Rating: TBD
Country: New Zealand
Release Date: TBD

Fresh Meat sets its tone and agenda pretty early on: there’s nudity and a lesbian school girl shower scene within the first minute or two of the film. No time wasted. Given, it’s playful and relatively chaste, but lesbian shower scenes are lesbian shower scenes no matter how you want to classify them. This is how we’re introduced to Rina, played by first-time actress Hanna Tevita. She’s a sweet young Maori woman returning home to the suburbs to visit her family after being away at school.

In a genteel movie without the lesbian shower scene in the first two minutes, the opening to Fresh Meat could have been the set-up for a lighthearted coming-of-age and coming-out comedy. That plot gets thrown off course, however, because Rina’s parents have something of their own they want to reveal. It turns out that while Rina was away at school, both mum (Nicola Kawana) and dad (Temuera Morrison) have decided to dabble in cannibalism. It’s around then that their home gets invaded by a group of bumbling criminals on the run.

A similar act of agenda setting occurs when we’re introduced to Gigi (Elliott), the film’s other female lead. Gigi first appears coming out of a car and ready to raise hell. She’s like a cross between Tura Satana and Milla Jovovich: hot pants, knee-high stockings, a Bettie Page haircut, and a shotgun. She’s the exploitation film equivalent of the femme fatale; some adolescent boy fantasy of sex and violence all rolled into one. Or in this case, Gigi’s also a school girl fantasy of sex and violence — she looks a lot like one of Rina’s drawings of a sultry superheroine.

Mulheron had mentioned in our interview that the tone of Fresh Meat was like a Road Runner cartoon, which is a good way of looking at it given the film’s goofy violence and comedy. It’s not a hardcore horror movie in any way, and scares are light even though there’s a decent amount of blood. I think there are two other cartoon examples that also feed into what Fresh Meat is all about in terms of its thrills and titillation — Tex Avery cartoons and Heavy Metal. In the case of both, there’s a nascent wolf-whistling, va-va-vooming, and marveling that happens with any hint of sexiness, which is exactly what my 15-year-old mind would have felt had I seen this movie all those years ago.

Fresh Meat also dabbles in a little social satire about the BS of suburban attitudes and values. One of Rina’s friends who just wants to get into her pants co-opts the Maori culture in order to seem more worldly and more sincere even though he’s just a bland and horny kid. Rina’s mom is a celebrity chef, which has led her to the ultimate kind of ho-hum social and literary cachet. Rina’s dad is a resentful failed writer who sinks all of his dreams (and his family’s lives, really) into the mad beliefs in his history book about a spiritual leader/cult leader.

None of the characters are really aiming high in life even though they think they are, and that lack of self-reflection is part of the trap of the suburbs. These are all empty people living in a neighborhood devoid of personality. While that touch of social satire is going on far in the background, in the foreground Gigi is pouring milk all over her body in the kitchen in slow-mo while Rina makes gaga eyes at her.

In my head, my inner 15-year-old triumphantly high-fives my friends’s inner 15-yeas-olds. (I have no idea why these other teenage selves are in my head.)

While Fresh Meat is a lot of fun, it feels like the movie is holding back. I was left hungry for more at the end. It’s like eating Chinese food (or possibly a Chinese person). Just having more offensiveness, more extreme gore, more violence could have pushed the film even further. Not only would that have appealed to the slapstick gorehound in me, it probably would have made this an even better send-up of the suburbs and the values of the upper middle class. And while Elliott and Tevita are good at playing their cartoon roles (shotgun seductress and fawning young femme), Morrison’s comic timing seems a little off, like he’s a shirt that’s overstarched.

Part of Fresh Meat‘s sense of withholding may come from budget and time constraints, but I think more of it comes from the attempt to get an R16 rating, which allows for a better box office. It’s understandable, though to the detriment of the movie’s high points. Fresh Meat is tasteless to a point, and there’s a desire in older-me to see that arbitrary limit of taste eradicated and transgressed; it’s as strong as the desire in the 15-year-old-me to see boobs and intestines (though not at the same time).

I guess even then, it’s not all bad since the film is still an enjoyable romp with lesbianism, girls with guns, and cartoon mayhem. The moments of restraint are probably fitting, actually. Fresh Meat is a cannibal splatter film with some manners — this is the suburbs, after all.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.