Ghost Week marches on, and more specifically my series of J-horror reviews. This time, I’m taking a look at Pulse, AKA Kairo, as released in Japan back in 2001. Like many of the other films I’m reviewing, this also got an American remake (that one arriving in 2006).
This film unfortunately did not really click with me, despite my finding everything about the premise quite fascinating. Pulse is about how ghosts start haunting the internet, and make people feel really depressed and want to kill themselves (because to die is to be Forever Alone). So back in 2001, this film predicted the future of the internet rather accurately, am I right? But seriously though, the anime Serial Experiments Lain handled this whole “everyone is connected to each other and everyone is alone” theme much better. (Everyone should watch Lain BTW; phenomenal thought-provoking series.)
Pulse is not much of a horror film. And unlike Dark Water, it’s not really a drama either. It’s very much a concept piece–a story that is focused much more on a theme than anything else. There isn’t much of anything to say about the characters–and indeed, they seemed to act according to what the plot required of them, rather than actually feeling like unique individuals that acted in a way that made sense. And as for the plot itself, there isn’t that much to it. Pulse is a fairly repetitive movie, and also a very, very slow-paced work. J-horror in general is pretty slow-paced, but Pulse is slow even for J-horror.
Again though, I really liked the concept this film was trying to work with, and the atmosphere overall isn’t bad. The director Kiyoshi Kurosawa seemed to have a vision here, and there are scenes that do manage to get across that nihilistic dread of dying and having that just be the whole meaningless end of everything. Nothing left for you to do but ghost about on the internet and make everyone else want to kill themselves. But in the end the film felt misguided, diverting from a couple small stories into a sudden apocalyptic scenario that feels forced, all leading up to an ending that in turn did nothing for me.
There are a few scenes in this movie that are clearly intended to elicit a reaction of dread or fear, but the approach Pulse takes reminds me of Blair Witch Project, in that we’re told “here’s something scary coming up in about 10 or so minutes!” and then 10 minutes pass with absolutely nothing happening. I get that more subdued horror is generally more interesting and effective than your basic jump scare or gore shot, but I do prefer to have something more than “some dude is standing there, I guess” for a horror sequence.
Still, if you’re looking for a pensive slow-burner that may or may not click with you in some way, it could be worth giving Pulse a try. It’s different from your average J-horror, and I’m all for experimentation and subverting elements of the genre. But for me it just didn’t flow well or get across a message in a particularly engaging manner.