Drawing on vampire myths from all over the world, vampire portrayals from an intimidating number of films and books, and horror tropes in general, Rigor Mortis is a visually stunning best-of compilation that has more emotional depth than you might expect.
A depressed actor (Chin Siu-ho) moves into an apartment complex and promptly attempts suicide, only to be rescued by Uncle Yau (Anthony Chan). Unfortunately, the suicidal thesp has given strength to the dark spirits who haunt the apartment. That’s the least of their worries, as one of the block’s residents has brought a man back from the dead and he’s about to wake up…
Rigor Mortis is a feast for genre fans. Vampire aficionados will tell you that several of the film’s cast and crew worked on the classic Mr Vampire, and there nods to everything from Nosferatu to Salem’s Lot to Let The Right One In.
Director Juno Mak makes good use of his dilapidated setting to confront his characters with apparitions and demons, showcasing a stunning visual style with some hypnotic fight sequences.
There’s also a lot more heart than you’d expect, as the scriptwriters understand the old rule that it’s the loss that make ghost stories effective, not the return. The old couple who are the catalyst for what will be the film’s only vampire (but not the film’s only monster) are played beautifully and their personal tragedy has real impact.
The film’s “everything, and the kitchen sink as well” attitude does lead to some mistakes, and as Rigor Mortis progresses there’s an increasing sense that plot points are being rushed over or ignored entirely.
While Mak’s decision to root the film in personal tragedy makes it affecting, it also forces us to examine the story in more detail than it can really take. Narrative decisions made in the final act threaten to alienate even the audiences who are happy to overlook any obvious shortcuts or the occasional misstep.
That being said, there’s more than enough here to keep us happy. It’s beautifully shot, frequently thrilling, often moving, and it’s a smörgåsbord of horror references for genre lovers, who will have a blast.