Creepy Hong Kong horror from director Juno Mak paying tribute to past masters
It's an interesting coincidence that Rigor Mortis (which premiered at Venice back in 2013) hits UK cinemas just a couple of months after Kung Fu Killer. Whereas the latter paid homage to Hong Kong's martial arts movies, Rigor Mortis is a tribute to the city's horror film history. In particular 1985's Mr Vampire (the two films share several cast members) and its sequels, which helped spearhead a new wave of Asian fright flicks.
In a clever piece of meta casting actor Chin Siu-ho – vaguely playing himself – has reached rock bottom. After losing his career and family he finds himself moving into a shabby Hong Kong apartment complex. The human inhabitants of this dingy tower block are seemingly outnumbered by the supernatural beings that roam the building. Murderers, ghosts, demonic twins and vampires all creep along the shadowy hallways as the residents' interlinking tales of heartbreak and horror are brought to vivid life.
It's an incredibly assured directorial debut from singer, actor and record producer Juno Mak, who helms under the watchful eye of producer and horror veteran Takashi Shimizu (best known for the insidiously creepy Grudge series). Rigor Mortis is visually stunning; it flirts with the black-haired phantoms that have become synonymous with Asian horror but gives the established aesthetic a contemporary twist, nodding to the past while reinvigorating the format with fast cuts, CGI and bursts of kung fu.
The entire film is bathed in shadows and painted in monotonous greys and violent splashes of red. An air of decay permeates every shot, creating a disconcerting world shrouded in eastern mysticism. Combining a modern sensibility with something older, deeper and more spiritual doesn't always pay off – the flashy effects don't leave a lot of room for characterisation for instance – however, the muted tones, fresh ideas and eerie atmosphere combine for a genuinely unsettling and constantly inventive take on the haunted house formula.
Selected release from Fri 24 Apr.