I’m just as sick of torture porn as the next guy, but even this tired genre has its occasional flashes of quality. I personally loved the first Hostel film (even though I’ve been loath to lump it into this sub-genre), quite enjoyed Turistas, and am always a fan of films that take the whole “fish out of water” element to xenophobia-inducing new highs. So, when a film like Train comes choo-choo-chooing along, it seems tailor made for my sensibilities.
Train is a shameless ripoff/mash-up of Hostel and Turistas, mixing the former’s creepy Eastern Euro locale, with the latter’s organ thieving baddies, and then putting it all in motion aboard a spooky old train running through the lovely Bulgarian countryside. It’s derivative, uninspired, and exceptionally cruel stuff, but, bless my soul, I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Thora Birch stars as Alex, a collegiate wrestler on an Eastern European tour with her team. She’s a lousy wrestler, but being a part of the team affords her the ability to be closer to her aspiring pro boyfriend, Todd (Derek Magyar). After a rubbish match at the Black Sea community something-or-other, the team is scheduled to board a train to Odessa at first light, and their ultra uptight coach (Todd Jensen) confines his wrestlers to their hotel rooms until it’s time to depart. Of course, being college kids, Todd, Alex, and their friends Sheldon (Kavan Reece) and Claire (Gloria Votsis) opt to sneak off to the obligatory Eastern European rave. They’re caught outside the hotel by Willy (Gideon Emery), the coach’s happily insubordinate assistant, and he decides to join them. The rave is one of those “only in the movies” events, with lots of sexy bodies gyrating in cages, a theatrical quality light show, and even a backroom sex orgy where Sheldon tries to convince his buddy Todd to partake in some local flavors. Todd, however, isn’t into that scene, and decides it’s time to vacate the premises. Todd rounds up Alex and Claire, but Claire’s dance partner (who was also Todd’s wrestling opponent earlier that day) decides he doesn’t want Claire to leave, and a fight ensues.
Early the next morning, our hung-over heroes arrive to the train station mere minutes after their train to Odessa has departed with the rest of their team in tow. Coach, however, has stayed behind to brow beat and gloat, and continues to do so very loudly and publicly until a mysterious woman informs him that the train she is travelling on is also en route to Odessa. Once on board, however, it’s obvious that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill railway, as passports are confiscated, the other passengers all seem to be suffering from some sort of debilitating diseases, and, one by one, Alex’s friends go missing, leaving her to discover the grisly secret of the train.
As I often do, I decided to peruse the interwebz for a general consensus of Train after I finished watching it for myself. I was quite surprised by the sheer volume of vitriol aimed at this flick. I read a few hyperbole-rich reviews by other online horror journo types in which they heatedly described the film as glorified “snuff”, “sickening”, and “disturbing”. Please, the most disturbing thing about this flick is the fact that Thora Birch seems incapable of growing eyebrows. If you’ve seen Hostel, Turistas, or any number of the Saw films and their clones, you’ve seen worse than this. One of the reviewers was up in arms about one scene in which implications of rape were made and another in which a man is punched repeatedly in the face with a pair of brass knuckles. I quickly found another review by the same critic for Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, a truly disturbing film that not only features an extremely graphic and prolonged (nearly ten minute) rape sequence, but also a scene in which a man’s face is obliterated with the butt end of a fire extinguisher. Of course, said critic found that film nothing short of brilliant. I guess it’s all in the context?
Personally, I didn’t find Train all that disturbing or particularly sickening. Yes; it’s an extremely bloody film, and the very realistic make-up and gore effects (all of which appear to be practical in nature – a welcome reprieve from cheesy CGI blood for sure!) make it all the more effective , but, if that sort of thing bothers you, you probably shouldn’t be watching a flick about organ trafficking in the first place, now should you? Train does have a bit of a mean streak, and the implied rape sequence, along with a particularly nasty bit in which a brutalized man has his wounds pissed on by a pair of inbred sickos, stand out as scenes I can see bothering some people, but I’ve seen far worse (Cannibal Holocaust anyone?), and I’m fairly certain the majority of our readers have, as well.
Now just because I’m defending Train from what I think are some undeservedly severe criticisms, that doesn’t mean that I am wholeheartedly recommending it. This is a shameless rip-off of two of the torture genre’s biggest “hits”, and, for that reason alone, Train instantly loses much of its credibility with me. That being said, however, the film’s production values are really quite impressive, the performances are fairly strong across the board, and the aforementioned gore effects are really well done. Director, Gideon Raff, does a fine job generating suspense and manipulating a few scares, while cinematographer Martina Radwan’s photography is simply beautiful, lending the film a sophisticated visual flair. And, yes, as derivative as the story may be, I found myself sucked into it and genuinely invested in its outcome. The dialogue’s a bit groan-inducing at times, and the tacked on finale is a bit preposterous, but, for the most part, I liked it. I liked it more than I probably should have given its plagiaristic tendencies, but , when all's said and done, it’s not like there’s a whole helluva lot of room for innovation in the torture porn genre, now, is there?
Lionsgate brings Train to DVD in a solid 1.78:1 transfer that offers a crisp, vibrant image, but is a bit spotty when it comes to black levels, especially in night scenes and dark interiors. I noticed some digital crush and blocking during these scenes, but it doesn’t distract too much unless you’re really looking for it (like I tend to do, video Nazi that I am). The lovely golden hues of the daylight sequences look fantastic, with a surprising amount of depth and detail for a standard definition image. The audio is equally impressive, with dynamic highs and booming lows, as well as an arsenal of spatial effects generously spread throughout the soundfield.
Extras include a short making-of featurette as well as trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Train is not a film for people with weak stomachs, Eastern Europeans, hypocrites, or soapbox enthusiasts. It’s violent, occasionally cruel stuff, derivative to a fault, and really aims to do nothing more than gross out its audience. It’s not nearly as nihilistic or offensive as some would have you think, but it’s not Scooby Doo, either. I had some twisted fun with the flick, despite its many shortcomings, and I think my fellow gorehounds will, too.