Fresh Meat could have been a disaster. Hell, in some ways it is a disaster. But the film pulls off a minor miracle by achieving a sustainable sense of fun throughout its runtime. While the narrative often gets caught up in its own repetitious cycle and bogged down by first-draft one liners (those clunky exchanges that seek to remind you of the cleverness of its conceit at every turn), it has an admirable sense of character – even if it doesn’t always know what to do with it.
Hanna Tevita (in her debut performance) knocks it out of the park as Rina Crane, a budding lesbian away at college who returns home to find that her family has converted to cannibalism in an effort to gain their patriarch (Temuera Morrison) the powers of immortality. This reunion (and accompanying strife) is cut short when a band of escaped criminals seek refuge in their garage and, ultimately, their house. It’s here that Fresh Meat turns into something of a home invasion movie, a detour it sticks with for the entirety of its 2nd act before placing its focus back on the family in the 3rd.
The criminals themselves are impressively distinctive as well, most notably Kate Elliott’s Gigi and Leand Macadaan’s Ritchie (who spends much of the film in a bra and panties after surfing a severe bite on his penis). But once the four criminals decide to split up, each taking their own hostage from the family to different areas of the house, the film sputters. Each family member’s personality (and conflict) has already been established. We know that Morrison’s Hemi is jealous of the success of his wife, Margaret (Nicola Kawana). We know that he thinks he’s immortal. We know that little brother Glenn (Kahn West) hasn’t formed his own identity or moral compass yet. But we get to hear all of this all over again (and experience the same jokes all over again) once the family is forced to bounce off their assailants instead of each other.
Thankfully, the tables are fairly easily turned and the interpersonal dynamics of the Crane Family are allowed to take center stage and escalate during the film’s 3rd act. This is the kind of move that usually doesn’t work, but here it does. And it’s because Fresh Meat is willing to let its characters finally break out of their cutesy mold and become an actual threat to one another. Suddenly we’re in territory where I actually can’t predict what’s right around the corner, which makes for an entertaining and engaging climax. It’s a surprisingly bloody, chaotic blast that veers into some mean-spirited territory without losing the film’s playful tone.
Ultimately, Fresh Meat is a good deal of fun. The gore is heavy and prevalent, but so day-glo happy that it never becomes truly disturbing. It’s a loose, ramshackle film that might grow tiresome in spots, but if you can latch onto and invest yourself in Tevita’s character you’ll zero in on a satisfying coming of age story.
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