Cannibalism turns comedic to great effect in this export from New Zealand. Fresh Meat mines laughs from a home invasion scenario by placing a very unusual family at the center of all the mayhem. As a result, we get lesbian schoolgirls, sultry gun-toting women, gangsters in tiny undies and more gore than you can shake a stick at. Also, Jango Fett eats a human heart.
Rina (Hanna Tevita) has a secret. While she was away at her all-girls boarding school, she developed a real fondness for some of her classmates. I'm talking about the sort of fondness that can only be properly expressed by soaping each other up in the communal showers. As luck would have it, Rina's family has a secret of their own. While she was away from home, mom (Nicola Kawana), dad (Temuera Morrison) and little bro (Kahn West) started eating people on the regular. When she comes home for a visit, the big question is who is going to spill their guts (pun totally intended) first.
Before either party can delve too deeply into what they've been up to, the family gathering is crashed by a group of criminals who are on the run after breaking Ritchie Tan (Leand Macadaan) out of a prison transport. Ritchie may think himself the leader of the group, but the real brains belong to the brutal and beautiful Gigi (Kate Elliott). Rounding out the gang are Ritchie's brother Paulie (Ralph Hilaga) and bumbling henchman Johnny (Jack Sergent-Shadbolt). When the Tan gang takes Rina's family hostage, they understandably think they have the upper hand. After all what are a celebrity chef (mom), an author (dad) and their kids going to do to stop them? The answer is gleefully gory and frequently funny.
It's tempting to label Fresh Meat a horror comedy. To be fair, it has a family of cannibals at its center and features oodles of gore to boot. With that said, in the hands of director Danny Mulheron the film comes off as a much stranger hybrid than the premise would suggest. Trust me, this is a good thing. The humorous elements are often funny (in a perfectly juvenile way) while the horrific elements are even funnier (in an over-the-top bloody slip n' slide way). The result is a dark comedy that still maintains a good measure of lightness thanks to the lunatic characters inhabiting this candy-coated suburban nightmare. It helps that the screenplay by Briar Grace-Smith takes no prisoners. The depiction of a Maori family as cannibals would be a touchy subject until you hear dad say matter-of-factly "We're not Maori cannibals, we're just cannibals who happen to be Maori".
While the performances are solid from top to bottom, the three standouts are Hanna Tevita as Rina, Kate Elliott as Gigi and Temuera Morrison as the family's patriarch. Tevita perfectly captures the uncertainty of a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality in the midst of a very tense situation while Elliott absolutely nails the mix of surly and seductive that represents Gigi. When the two of them start making eyes at each other, both actresses sell the attraction as sweetly romantic rather than exploitative (although if you need a quick hit of exploitation, the opening shower scene should suffice). For his part, Morrison portrays a complete monster albeit a charismatic one. He slowly peels back the layers of his character going from resentful cuckold to mischievous captive to something much more devious. Late in the film, when a character gets thrown down the stairs, he bellows "Don't bruise the meat!" I cringed and chuckled at the same time. That's a compliment.
With this film, the missteps are hardly devastating. Although featuring a large cast of characters, not all of them feel fully utilized. Of the criminals, only Gigi is fleshed out with both Tan brothers getting the short end of the stick. Also, once the two groups collide the film stalls for a little while as new alliances are formed and old ones forgotten. Finally, the climax seems a bit disjointed as it forgoes much of the humor that has been front and center until that point in a bid to go full slasher. Fortunately, none of these concerns hurt the film as a whole. Mulheron keeps things moving at a swift pace for the most part, punctuating the proceedings with blasts of goofy gore. That's certainly one recipe for success.