#31DaysOfHorror: Pulse (2001)

pulse-kairo-11479Two groups of people discover evidence that suggests spirits may be trying to invade the human world through the Internet.

Well, the joy and entertainment that I got from Shutter yesterday inspired me to take a look at another Asian horror film that had a terrible American remake which made me pass on the original: Pulse (or Kairo if you’re feeling nasty). This one comes to us from Japan, and is a great example of our fears and concerns around the growing ubiquity of cell phones and the internet. On top of those themes, which were pretty topical at the time, Pulse also deals with suicide in a way that was surprisingly respectful, while still being a horror film.

So, with all of these things working in its favour, does Pulse manage to chill and entertain as much as Shutter, or even find itself among the more popular horror films of this type? Unfortunately, it really doesn’t. Clocking in a a hair under two hours, Pulse stretches it’s plot razor thin and really could have done with a bit less. We spend a lot of time with characters in scenes that don’t seem to go anywhere or add anything new to the story.

It’s really too bad too, because director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sanata) is a genuinely great director, and you get great performances from the rather large cast of characters. Hell, the movie looks great too; the moments that are supposed to be scary work really well, and the shot compositions throughout the film are great. It’s all here, and unfortunately the movie just spends too long on a story that just… didn’t need it.


The film was also written by Kurosawa, and he does an excellent job dealing with these young characters who are trying to understand the suicide of their friend. There are some really interesting conversations about suicide, including one where a friend openly discusses his own suicidal ideation in the wake of his friend’s death. Few movies want to have frank conversations about this, and I applaud the movie for at least giving it a shot.

With many foreign films, I do wonder what I might be losing as someone who is not from that particular culture. I commented on the uniform design that ghosts seem to have in many Asian films, and how I felt that was likely a cultural thing, and I feel the same way in this movie. While it doesn’t have the herky-jerky black haired ghost girl, there are some similarities in the aesthetic of the film. This does make me wonder if there is something about the topic of suicide, or these fears of technology that might have made this movie more effective in Japan, or perhaps it’s just having 15 years to accept and cope with cell phones and the internet that makes them feel significantly less frightening.

The biggest downfall of Pulse is its run-time; this isn’t to suggest that a horror movie shouldn’t be two hours, some of the best ever made are quite long (looking at you The Shining and The Exorcist), but any movie needs to be able to justify its length through pacing. Perhaps pulse was meant to go slow, and to really build its tension, but based on the way it ends, it doesn’t really feel like a reward. It has a couple of interesting points to make about technology and even about suicide, but the characters and the story aren’t quite substantial enough to deliver on those ideas.

It’s ultimately not a bad movie, but it doesn’t do it for me either. I’m positive that there are fans of the film out there, and some of you who check it out for the first time are going to absolute adore it and not see what I’m talking about. That said, check it out if you’re so inclined but I wouldn’t make it a list-topper.



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