Philly-based distributor Artsploitation Films has just pulled a Dutch film called Meat (aka Vlees, 2010) out of the freezer, and it’s kind of a doozy. Produced by Amsterdam-based co-directors Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwenhuijs (she’s the writer, he’s the cinematographer), Meat is a nonlinear murder mystery that starts out as day-in-the-life middle-aged sexual intrigue, morphs briefly into one of those young-people-and-discotheques Euroflicks, and finally turns into a post-modern police procedural. It’s not much of a whodunit, but it’s a pretty good example of a 21st-century grindhouse film, serving up pungent elements of low-budget horror and surrealism with erotic aromatics and a permeating abattoir stench. But I don’t want to oversell it. Just think Luis Buñuel crossed with Jörg Buttgereit.
Meat is about two men and a woman. The woman is Roxy (Nellie Benner), a pretty blonde 20something working at a meat counter. One of the men is the butcher (Titus Muizelaar), a heavy, plain and middle-aged bloke reassigned from his original position as the trigger-man in a slaughterhouse after suffering an unspecified breakdown on the job. The other is Inspector Mann (also Titus Muizelaar), the heavy, plain and middle-aged police detective leading the investigation after the butcher shows up dead following an evening of energetic lovemaking with Roxy — who turned out not to be as bothered by the meat man’s advances as viewers will first imagine.
Fans of compelling, coherent narratives may as well give this one a miss, as story is not Meat‘s strong suit. Instead, the script, credited to Seyferth and “consultant writer” Stan Lapinski, works up an air of unease. The butcher is sexually frustrated, the detective is a cad, and Roxy is unlucky in love. But Meat‘s nonlinear presentation offers up a genuinely weird on-screen chronology where characters die and come back to life as the story folds in on itself. Seyferth trades in doubles, starting with Muizelaar’s double role as both male leads. Uneasy parallels are drawn between the hunger for animal flesh and human sexual desire. Further, the physical, vaguely threatening language used by the butcher to seduce Roxy is echoed later in the film by the detective trying to bully her into a confession — a reminder of the ways sexism and intimidation can put women at a disadvantage in legal as well as sexual affairs. Nieuwenhuijs’ sober camerawork is a match for the clever scripting. Scenes are interestingly blocked and intelligently composed to make good use of the frame, even if that means placing the camera directly overhead to show a character moving in and out of another’s space during the workday, or carefully executing a long shot so that a character on the ground level of an apartment complex moves in sync with his ex-lover, walking three floors overhead.
Despite the ambition on display, I’m not sure what all of this actually amounts to, and it’s hard to recommend a film that tiptoes right down the line between unpleasant and repellent for its entire running time. But when I’m watching horror movies, it’s often sheer sensation that I seek, and so I give Meat credit for not being coy about anything. A sex scene in the film’s second act is surprisingly graphic; in the aftermath, Roxy urinates on her partner (paging Radley Metzger?), an animalistic act that is itself doubled later on, in one of the film’s more outré tableaux. There is a rape scene, presented in ugly nightvision green, and a follow-up consensual sex scene visually coded as an aggression but shot handsomely enough to blur the line. You might already have gathered that Benner spends a fair portion of her screen time nude; serving gender parity, Muizelaar goes full-frontal as well. That’s important not just for prurient reasons but also because commitment — the absolute, strait-laced dedication of everyone involved to this series of odd and disturbing scenes — is exactly what this film has going for it, along with an unusual measure of visual rigor. Meat isn’t easy to watch, but if it gets its hooks in you, you’ll be there for the duration.