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Tribeca Review: Kiwi Cannibal Comedy ‘Fresh Meat’ Is A Silly, Tasty Treat

Tribeca Review: Kiwi Cannibal Comedy 'Fresh Meat' Is A Silly, Tasty Treat

There’s a certain expectation
that comes with attending a horror-comedy with a ridiculously on-the-nose
title. And in that respect, “Fresh Meat” delivers on its promise as a
deliriously off-the-wall splatterfest with absolutely zero pretension. You could
guess that Kiwi director Danny Mulheron was a Peter Jackson acolyte (he worked
on Jackson’s puppet classic “Meet The Feebles”) by just closing your eyes and
listening: the smack of slabs of meat slapping against each other, the screams
of proudly ridiculous mega-acting, and the perfectly-calibrated physical
violence that suggests a silly symphony of onscreen slapstick are all strengths
that used to be exhibited in the work of Mr. Jackson, before he traded his
integrity for some elf ears in Hollywood.

This restless stab-fest lacks
nuance and depth for the most part, which the film wears as a strength during its
breathlessly paced first forty-five minutes. Two clans are in a collision
course with each other: the Cranes are a well to-do family of Maoris, with an
underlying tension between mom Margaret (Nicole Kawana) and dad Hemi (Temuera Morrison), a skilled television cook
and a failed writer, respectively, about to welcome artistic daughter Rina (Hanna Tevita) back
from an all-girls college. Unbeknownst to them, her interests have begun to
lean towards the ladies, her blossoming lesbianism a surprise even to her.

Meanwhile, a group of misfit
criminals are poised to break a colleague out of custody, a task that requires
each of these colorful cretins to reflect a distinct, Looney Tunes-ish trait.
The gunshot violence in this sequence is particularly cartoony, with bodies
flying across the screen and each baddie bursting into action as if catapulted
with an Acme launcher. Led by a couple of brothers known as the Tans, this
small crew flees the scene, searching for a place to lay low. At the same
moment, Rina is discovering a human hand lying in a dish inside the Cranes’ refrigerator.
Turns out the celebrity chef mother has found a tasty new ingredient for her
dishes, and it rhymes with “steeple.”

The Tan gang eventually seek
salvation at the Cranes’, and it immediately loads a gun that we want to see
fired. It’s a testament to the film’s pacing that we’re not in a rush to see
this family’s very specific hunger make short work of these goons. Instead,
they’re tied up and held hostage, allowing each member of the family to develop
a different relationship with each colorful thug. In her captor, domestic Margaret
finds an unexpected fan, who claims her food provided him with diets that saved
his life. Hemi, an intellectual blowhard, keeps thinking of ways to be the
hero. And, unexpectedly, there’s a deeper connection between Rina and leggy
Gigi (Kate Elliot), the two of them discovering a mutual attraction that gives the film a
kinky fantasy element.

“Fresh Meat” bides its time
before the Cranes can find a way to fight back, creating three intriguing
factions with opposing goals: the Tans largely want to plan an escape, and the
Cranes aim to survive, but Rina and Gigi remain caught in the middle, uncertain
about the burgeoning feelings. But once the tables have turned, it’s Hemi who
emerges as the leader of this volatile stand-off. Given a real meaty part (no
pun intended, seriously!), prolific Kiwi actor Temuera Morrison is a hilarious
stand-out, revealing his newfound cannibalistic urges to be a dedication to
Maori cannibal legend Solomon Smith, taking the fight back to the Tans while
challenging his non-cannibal daughter to become a devout Solomonist.

The shift to Morrison as the
standout character, far more over-the-top than a pretty hammy group of actors, changes the momentum a tad, and suddenly the manic energy of the first half
gives way to a sluggish dramatic angle: the film never shies away from its
inspired bloodshed comedy, but it doesn’t manage to deepen the characters while
maintaining its comic pace. By taking seriously the bond developing between
Rina and Gigi, it feels as if the film limits its comedic potential, resulting
in a chaotic, unpredictable film suddenly making its way towards a fairly
conventional, underwhelming climax. But again, you’re signing up for a horror
comedy called “Fresh Meat,” you should be smart enough to know if you’re going
to be disappointed or not. Most likely, you won’t be. [B]

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