Rigor Mortis (2013)
Rigor Mortis (2013)
Director: Juno Mak
Cast: Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Fat Chung
Synopsis: A public housing tenement is plunged into a dark storm of supernatural chaos.
Despite paying frequent homage to earlier movies – both Asian and farther afield – Juno Mak’s debut feature, Rigor Mortis, still manages to establish a character of its own, and evokes a typically foreboding atmosphere amongst the claustrophobic corridors and apartments of a block of flats in which no-one in their right mind would choose to live. But then Chin Siu-Ho (Siu-Ho Chin) can hardly be described as being of sound mind when he moves in to apartment 2442. He’s a washed-up movie star who has only rented a room to commit suicide, but two things happen as he hangs from the ceiling: his body is occupied by a vengeful spirit, and his life is saved by Yau (Anthony Chan), a retired vampire hunter who forcibly expels the spirit from Chin.
As he recovers, Chin gets to know his new neighbours. They’re a rum lot, it has to be said. The 72-year-old security man Uncle Yin (Lo Hoi-pang) stays on at his job only so that he can care for the traumatised Yang Feng (Kara Hui), the former occupant of Chin’s apartment, who is now unable to cross its threshold without seeing the bloody corpses of two sisters who also once lived there. Feng has a young son, Pak, an albino boy who spends his days playing in the building’s run-down corridors. One of the tenants who allows Pak to play in their flat is the kindly seamstress Aunti Mui (Paw Hee-ching), but she bars Pak from her room when her husband dies in what looks like an accident but is actually murder, and enlists the aid of Black magician Gau (Chung Fat) to bring her husband back from the dead. But Gau, who smokes the ashes of unborn babies to defer the fatal legacy of lung cancer, has an ulterior motive for helping the grieving Auntie. His technique for returning Mui’s husband to life is to place him in a bath full of earth for seven days with a mask across his mouth to quell his murderous hunger. Unfortunately, Auntie Mui is the impatient sort and, despite Gau’s repeated warnings, removes the mask too early…
The slow, insidious horror in Rigor Mortis plays out against a desaturated palette of greys and browns, and as with most good horror it insinuates itself into the story with a sense of permanence, as if it has always been – and always will be – there; the living are just visitors, passing through its domain. Rigor Mortis discloses its secrets with a detached miserliness, particularly in its first thirty minutes, and you sometimes don’t even realise it has done so until later in the plot. Some might find that difficult, but it’s worth sticking with. Strands come together, and although one major twist isn’t revealed until the final scene, it slowly starts to make sense. It’s weird and it’s confusing at times, and its heavy on atmosphere (a knowledge of Chinese mythology would definitely help), but the performances – particularly from Anthony Chan and Paw Hee-ching – are strikingly good. Paw, in particular, excels in a difficult role as a violent instrument of evil motivated by grief. You can’t help believing that, one day soon, poor Auntie Mui too will be haunting the creepy halls of that wretched apartment block.
(Reviewed 13th May 2015)