Apparently Rigor Mortis pays tribute to an old genre in Hong Kong Cinema that never did that well in the West. Probably because most of it is based on Chinese mythology and therefore not one to get into easily. But director Juno Mak and producer Takashi Shimizu (creator of The Ju-on series and The Grudge franchise) try to do more. Which I think is very commendable but in the end causes the film to be unnecessarily confusing.
Rigor Mortis at it's heart seems to be a drama about how people deal with death. In order to convey this message though they resort to incredible gorgeous but creepy visuals that are quite effective. However they are never truly scary. Actually Rigor Mortis is not using the typical scares or building up tension. Instead there is a focus on creating this intense and intriguing atmosphere. This is easily the best Rigor Mortis has to offer. To be honest though it feels quite disjointed from the dramatic tales of the characters that are featured. Not that these stories weren't interesting or compelling. They were very much so. Only it did not feel like it really mattered that much since no real depth was given to these stories. But I must admit that the way this movie was filmed and the slow pace it did make you wonder at times if there was more to what you are exposed to. And I for one wanted to see the director go deeper into these people's lives and show us why it was so hard for them to let go. While I really enjoyed the spectacular action and beautiful visuals I do feel they prevented to do something substantial with the subject that the director is trying to pay attention to. Or maybe there truly is more than meets the eye and Rigor Mortis is filled with all kind of symbolism that sadly will be lost on many.
So I have very mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand I thought it was visually very impressive. And it was nice to see what the hopping vampire / black magic genre would look like if it were made these days. On the other hand I get tired of inexperienced directors putting too much pretension in their work. I really fail to see why a lot of these film makers seem to think that as long as you keep things abstract that it automatically becomes deep and interesting. Because it does not. You only get away with it if you actually attempt to add substance and are able to touch the viewer despite not telling them everything. And on top of that a twist is added that almost is insulting to the people who are very much into the old Chinese folk tales and the fans who love this genre. Why would you do that?
But I can't deny that Rigor Mortis is much better than I expected it to be and it does deserve to watched at least once. Still you have to count on a very uneven viewing experience where your patience will be tested one minute and the other you will be wowed by the spectacle.