Review: Rigor Mortis Is Anything but Stiff

file_177221_0_shock-score-6.90x72Rigor_Mortis_1400x2100Asian horror cinema is quite a different animal. There is always subtext layered deep within that deals with the consequences of our actions, therefore, even the simplest horror stories seem deeper and more developed. That is the case with Juno Mak’s directorial debut, Rigor Mortis, a film that is layered in so much meaning, that every frame is alive.

The film opens with a man reflecting on his life, of all things, as an actor. This would explain away the ruin around him as being part of a huge set. Operatic, sure, but it could be a man on a stage performing for the world. Life is ridiculous, he says, before the film flashes back to tell us its story.

Chin (Chin Siu Ho), who is a down on his luck actor, moves into a Mega-City 1-style skyscraper to end his tragic existence. Looking very much like Chow Yun Fat in A Better Tomorrow, you would never guess that he has tasted success and lost everything, including his wife and child. Though his initial suicide attempt is thwarted by a neighbor, Chin inadvertently feeds the dark spirits within the building and brings them forth. Good thing that the neighbor who saved him, Uncle Gau (Chung Fat) is a retired zombie hunter, cause you never know what’s going to happen.

Though there is evil roaming and other odd occurrences rear their ugly heads, it isn’t until he runs into a woman and small child in the building that things really take off and set Chin on his true journey.  A journey that sees him battle ghosts, vampires, and his own demons. I can’t give away much more without committing to explaining the entire plot and that wouldn’t be very much fun.  In short, it’s a man journey through loneliness, regret, and realization while confronting vampires/zombies, and the dark arts. There, are we clear?

What I can say about the film is that it is grand in its intention which hurts the film as well as helps it. We have seen apartment-bound horror before in films like Mullberry Street and The Horde, and though they are more action-orientated, they are also focused. What we are asked to do is deal with in Rigor Mortis is an eclectic mix of odd denizens and paranormal occurrences more fitting of a David Lynch TV show than a film. Sometimes it’s a lot to chew. But you can’t really blame a film for packing a lot in. It holds together, although just barely at times.

That being said, the cast is great. Like Quentin Tarantino or Rob Zombie, Juno Mak has chosen to feature character actors from his favorite era. Anthony Chan Yau, Chung Fat, Richard Ng, all veterans of the genre. Other than the children, there isn’t really any actor under the age of 40-ish. In other words, this is a film for adults without the usual sexy young cast trappings (Yes, it happens in other countries, too).The film reminds me of Phantasm in the sense that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, yet is visual stimulating and downright entertaining. There are so many Easter eggs for Asian horror fans that like The Howling or ParaNorman (Yes, you read it right) – it demands repeat viewing.

As I said, there is a lot of meaning in this film. It is a film about choices and consequences, life and the act of imitating life.  There is no undoing the past because there is a balance.  Rigor Mortis can be a hard watch if you aren’t in to Asian cinema. Its pacing is very deliberate and quiet at times. However, it is a film worth a look and doing something different is far more interesting than retreading familiar ground. Yes, life is ridiculous, but it has its rules. Chin learns that breaking the rules of life leads to madness. We should all heed his warning.

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