Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pulse


   I love J-horror movies. In general I've always found foreign horror flicks to be uniquely interesting. They provide insight into the commonly accessible fears prevalent in a country or of a specific time in that country. Japan, for instance, certainly has a long standing relationship with ghosts. Whether they're crawling out of a TV, or embodying a small white-skinned child, it's a pretty common and popular theme. This 2001 thriller is no exception. Pulse is another entry into this genre, but instead of VHS tapes, or missed phone calls, the inciting object in question is... the internet.

   Obviously this makes Pulse a very dated spook-fest, and I'll admit it was pretty amusing watching someone 'install' the internet from a CD-ROM, or talk about it like it's this brand new thing. I always felt that using current technology as a crux of a plot in a movie is very shortsighted. How many people currently think The Net with Sandra Bullock is a great thriller? Nobody. Because that movie is dated as fuck and gets everything completely wrong about the very thing it's trying to be about. It might as well be a fantasy movie about aliens or something. Early 00's movies with 'hackers' were no different. I once watched a movie where a guy used a gum wrapper to 'unlock' some dude's cell phone and give him unlimited long distance minutes.

   That kind of thing might work when the public is ignorant to how this technology works, but how is that going to hold up in five years? Or ten? Pulse on the other hand is a fantasy movie, or at least one about ghosts. The concept of ghosts working their way into our world through the internet might seem ridiculous at first, but the movie's approach to the concept is calculated and creepy as hell. It's easy to accept because the movie is so damned earnest about it. I don't think I'll ever hear the dial-up sound the same way again. Pulse also manages to pull off a detached dreamlike quality, juggling many different elements to it's overall concept. Doors sealed with red tape? People who 'fade away'? An afterlife with finite space? And a series of damn creepy webcams picturing what's supposed to be ghosts?

   I'm not even sure how all of it ties together directly, but that's fine because the one constant in the movie is the theme of loneliness. That's right, this movie doesn't prey on your fear of ghosts so much as it preys on the more commonly human fear of being totally, completely and eternally... alone. It's a smart move, considering how the internet was and still very much is a tool to 'connect' with other people and reach out. Instead, in this movie, the internet becomes just the opposite. An oppressive presence that ends up having a horrific effect on the characters' lives. Almost everyone in the movie, to some extent, already grapples with loneliness. The idea that the afterlife is just more of the same is the one truly horrifying idea to them.

   Whether or not all the fantastical horror elements link up properly, or even make sense, seems superfluous in the overall scheme of things. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has crafted an endlessly creepy nightmare with relatable themes, letting the material stay with you long after the credits roll. The images of the people in the web cam footage is unnerving, haunting, and quickly filled me with a sense of dread. Did it tap into a fear of being watched? Being alone? Or dying that way too? I don't quite know, I can't put my finger on it. But Kurosawa is an expert visualist and gets the most out of what could've been very pedestrian imagery.

   That any horror movie from the early 00's could use the internet as an integral part of it's base concept, and still function for a modern audience is beyond impressive. Pulse is arguably a timelessly scary movie because it's themes and execution outlast it's dated trappings. The score is one of the creepiest I've ever heard, the editing is fantastic, and the disjointed dreamlike quality of the movie only adds to it's overall unnerving nature. Pulse works better on a visual level than it does on a logical one, and too often I lost track of the characters in the two parallel storylines, but where it matters the movie is deeply emotional and well acted. My hat is off to the actors, and to Kurosawa himself. Pulse might not be a wholly original genre defining work, but in my opinion, it's a classic in it's own right.

   Take note, this is how you creep someone out. Easy to recommend alongside Ringu or any other J-horror flick of your choosing, Pulse might not work for everyone but it worked for me. It's not concerned with jump scares, or gore, but instead with slow building horror that builds up right in front of your face. Hard to look away? That's the idea. The only thing scarier that something you didn't see coming jumping out at you, is something you've seen coming the whole time and you just can't avoid it. Pulse exploits that perfectly. Even when it seems to be operating in a vacuum of logic, the scares still work. This is one horror flick that'll be staying with me for a long time.

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