Meat Grinder

Dir. Tiwa Moeithaisong

Troubled Buss (Mai Charoenpura) struggles to make ends meet and pay off her absent husband’s debts, selling noodle soup from her food cart. One day she is caught in the midst of a student riot and dragged to safety by activist Attapol, with whom she begins a tentative relationship. Buss later discovers the body of one of the rioters in her food cart and decides to cook it, adding the meat to her noodle soup. Before long, her business becomes very successful, meaning she must find a steady supply of fresh human meat to use in her cooking…

Heavily marketed as the latest Thai ‘torture-porn’ export, Meat Grinder wears its promise of gut-wrenching gore and sadistic scenes of violence rather proudly. And so it should, for they are amongst the most startling and insistent scenes of carnage in recent memory. The opening monochromatic montage depicts a woman calmly preparing a human cadaver for cooking, smearing it with herbs and spices and marinating it before tipping it into a bubbling pot. After the credits, no time is wasted in getting to the first ‘kill’; an unfortunate guy looking for his missing girlfriend – the babysitter of Buss’s daughter, and as it transpires later, the mistress of her husband. The following scene is shocking in its matter of fact violence and exhibits a humour darker than night, as Buss attacks the man with a machete, cutting his leg clean off and then throwing it at him.

Cinematographer turned director Tiwa Moeithaisong films everything unflinchingly and with a real sense of style and panache. Style overkill does however threaten to confuse events as the use of rabid editing and inconsistent deployment of black and white photography confuse matters, and it becomes quite difficult to decipher the increasingly fracturing narrative – though it could of course be argued that this perfectly conveys Buss’s ever-fraying mental state. Her blurring of past and present, real and imagined works itself up into a stifling haze.

Meat Grinder manages to set itself apart from the gore glut by exhibiting more bite than most, evoking memories of the likes of Delicatessen, Dumplings and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, before ultimately treading down its own unique, bloodied path. Incorporating elements of socio-political commentary and psychological investigation, the film unravels as an, albeit very violent and gory, exploration of a woman’s tragic freefall into after a stilted life of abuse and suffering. Buss is portrayed by Thai singer-songwriter Mai Charoenpura, whose touching, convincing performance elevates the character and ensures she has the audiences’ sympathy despite the brutal acts of carnage she carries out. While she is presented to us as ‘the monster’, and make no mistake – some of the barbaric atrocities she carries out will be amongst the most flinch-inducing acts audiences will have seen of late – thanks to Charoenpura’s performance and the intelligent script, Buss is a fully realised, tragically flawed character. The images of a distraught and bloodied Buss running, knife in hand, through the market streets are harrowing and heartbreaking. A startling amount of attention is paid to her back-story, which is another surprising element to what unfolds as a very unconventional film.

As mentioned, Moeithaisong works a little political commentary into proceedings too, not least with the character of Attapol (Rattananballang Toksawat), a political activist whose last words spoken are ‘I’m the victim!’ Stock footage of the student riots for democracy from 1973 is also edited into a number of scenes to remind us that the present is always haunted by the past – a statement affirmed by Buss’s own flashbacks of a tragic childhood and years of abuse at the hands of her stepfather interwoven throughout the narrative. The interesting idea of food as atonement and how it nourishes and strengthens families is also touched upon, and Moeithaisong ratchets up the tension in an expertly realised scene involving Buss stalking Nida, a classmate of Attapol’s, around her dank charnel house, machete in hand.

Despite lurid and deeply unsettling imagery, Meat Grinder has so much more meat on its bones than your average gore-fest and promises to be a truly visceral experience that improves with each nuance-revealing viewing – you might even find that it is the dark plight of Buss, and not the violent acts she carries out, that lingers spookily in your mind.

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