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]