Movie Review: Rigor Mortis (Juno Mak)

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CAPSULE: A victory of visual images over plotting, this is Hong Kong director Juno Mak’s premier film and a tribute to Hong Kong horror films from the 1980s. An actor rents a room in a supremely ugly concrete apartment block. His plan is to commit suicide, but the supernatural world is not through with him. This is a film for the eye and not for the mind. The plot is minimal but the visual effects have been lavished on this film enough to smother the plot. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

There was a time when a special effects movie would be written one way. It would start our with a story and then say, “At this point the monster is born.” That part would be given to the visual effects staff and they would create the effect. Later it might say, “At this point the monster is hit by a steam shovel.” And the effects people would be given that image to create for the film. Of course, some of Ray Harryhausen’s films would have the set of effects he wanted to create worked into the story. But the story would not have to be greatly modified and the plot of the film would still be paramount and the effects would have to follow it.

Rigor Mortis feels like it was not created that way and I suspect it was not. I think how it was made was that the effects people started by creating a collection of disturbing, violent, kinetic, and bloody images, as horrifying as they could manage. And they do show a great deal of imagination. The images were then sorted so that the strongest ones would be toward the end of the film. Then a story was written to tie the images together is a very loose plot. What does not quite fit the plot might be explained, but even that is not really necessary. The viewer leaves the theater with not a good feel for the story they just saw, but with hopefully indelible memories of the images.

Siu Ho wanted to be a movie star, but after a short career he finds himself out of luck and ready to give up on this life for the next one. He is also giving up on his wife and his young son. With only pocket change he rents a room in a surprisingly ugly apartment block. What it does have is a ceiling fixture from which he hangs a rope, and from the rope he hangs himself. But there are strange supernatural forces in the building and they have other plans for Siu Ho. They do not want to let him die so soon. They have other plans for him. Siu Ho gets to know the other tenants who have consigned themselves to living in this hellishly ugly concrete building which houses demonic ghosts–bloody and violent. The violent visuals have gallons of splashing blood and surreal imagination. It is hard for a Westerner not steeped in Asian supernatural tradition to know if the rules that the characters are following are real folklore or are mythology created ad hoc. They are more distraction from the plot than they are enhancements of it.

This film is a tribute to the 1980s series called “Mr. Vampire” in the West. Many of the actors from that series are used again here. Creatures are called “vampires” here also, though they are not vampires at all but Chinese hopping ghosts. This is a film that is constantly fiddling with the camera. It does enhance the weirdness of scenes artificially, but we are given images with the camera corkscrewing or looks up at characters from ankle level, all for no apparent reason. They just seem to want to upset the viewer.

Rigor Mortis is visceral but not intelligent. This is the kind of film for which you turn off your mind and let the scenery overwhelm you. And it will without benefit of drugs. I rate Rigor Mortis a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It was released June 6, 2014, on Amazon and Xbox.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2771800/combined

Originally appeared on: http://leepers.us/rig_mort.htm

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About Mark Leeper

Mark Leeper has had a near life-long love of mathematics, science fiction, and cinema. Together with his wife Evelyn he founded a science fiction club at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Since 1978 they have published a weekly newsletter for their club for which Mark writes a weekly column and about sixty film reviews a year, all of which are available on the Internet.