Wednesday, August 13, 2014
MIFF Session 12: RIGOR MORTIS
Yau climbs the steps of a beautifully forbidding Hong Kong apartment megacomplex, preceded by a small boy with a peroxide bowl haircut. Uncle Yin, the caretaker with the knowledge of all the history of the building and its people lets Yau into his new flat. Once alone, Yau, floating on memories of the loss of his son through divorce, strings himself up with enough rope and kicks off the stool. Suddenly an older man rushes in and in a martial arts flypast severs the rope with a knife. Yau is alive and ashamed. His neighbours crowd around with a sadness that seems habitual. Only his saviour has noticed that just before the rope was cut, the tarpaulin on the floor assumed a vaguely human shape that leaves bloodstains on each part of the fabric it touched as it headed hungrily toward the dying man.
Back among the living Yau settles into life among the poor and destitute of the big grey world he has moved to. The endearingly gruff old timer who cooks glutinous rice for the people of his section reveals to the newcomer that he was a vampire hunter and that Yau narrowly escaped possession. But the twin sister spirits are on the rise and hungry again and will need to be dealt with. Can Yau, washed up actor with sin on his shoulders offer any help?
This thrilling ricochet from the 80s Hong Kong hopping vampire movies is less innovative than expert. Founded on reinforced art direction and great swathes of atmosphere, its action feels less of a relief when it waxes climactic than a natural explosion. We are in a tradition remote from the James Wan cattle prod scares of the Insidious movies and are resting more uneasily on older traditions. This even more so than the Pang brothers' masterpiece The Eye which, while it exuded its own style, borrowed heavily from contemporary Western horror. The extensive CGI used for the creatures and ghosts is about as Hollywood as it gets but even there the apparition of the myriad tentacled vampire girls and monstrous golem like host body bear little resemblance to their US equivalent.
If the CGI of the vampires can feel a little fake at times with figures appearing to have no contact with their surfaces there are moments of great craft using the technology. My favourite of these was a stitched-together crane shot that went impossibly from the ground floor up several storeys to a character's face. David Fincher started using this in Fight Club to dizzying effect and it's all through Irreversible to give that film the appearance of being a single take. Here it has enough narrative weight for us to notice nothing more than the pleasure of such an easy transition between an event and a character's sight of it. It feels right rather than looks flashy.
The overall palette of the film is desaturated colour bringing the base grey out and is a shift away from the aquarium green of the previous decade (The Eye, Horror Hotline etc). Lest this should be misconstrued as a Western influence I'll just quickly point out the importance of grey in the overall visual scheme. This is a tale of limbo or purgatory, a place where the black and the white must blend until purity can separate them.
The music score is a robust blend of electronic and orchestral, fitting the murk of the colour palette perfectly. At one point the sound mix included a creaking that came from the host vampire's movement which had an euqivalent in the synthesiser of the music. When the two coincided there was a delicious concordance.
Finally, I will congratulate this film on leaving the comedy to brief moments in the dialogue and not wussing out by undercutting its own work. This film does work and work hard; there is no need for it to be self conscious or even as embarrassed at itself as the worst of the genre are. Do you like your horror rich and atmospheric? Do you like being taken seriously as a viewer? Try this, then.