One of my favorite things about the horror genre is that it can be used to express singular points of view about societal issues and still entertain at the same time. Few horror movies do that better, in my eyes, than writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (also known as Pulse) from 2001. This dude is way afraid of the internet and he’s not afraid to tell you about it. There is nothing subtle about Pulse, but it’s more powerful and complex as a result. It’s like a graduate school class on the internet’s effect on society masquerading as a standard issue J-Horror movie.
From the ghostly and eerie score to the anemic looking photography (this movie feels like it was shot in Depressed-O-Vision) to the performances that are almost uniformly drained of all energy, hope and life, Kurosawa expertly plunges the viewer into a desolate and moody experience. He also peppers the movie with a number of mysterious, cryptic and shocking images, none more so than a shot where you don’t notice (until it’s too late) that a woman is about to jump to her death from a tower in the background of the frame. It’s a movie that understands that what’s scary is not what we see but when we can’t rationalize or understand what we just saw.
But as I alluded to earlier, the movie sticks with me primarily because of its themes. There are too many to cover at length so I’m just going to list all of the ones I could keep track of.
• The real and very scary “death fantasy” – i.e. how would people react to my death?
• Who is the “real” you? Your online personality or who you are among your real-life friends and family?
• The internet’s effect on interpersonal communication and the withdrawal/social isolation it can cause.
• Suicide leaves a stain – it affects everyone and makes us all feel isolated and depressed.
• The concept of Death is scary because you can’t take anything with you in death. Death is eternal loneliness. And yet we are all drawn towards death, we have to poke at it with a stick (one reason why I can say, personally, I love the horror genre).
Pulse is a masterpiece of apocalyptic, existential dread that I strongly recommend you check out this Scary Movie Month. It can be found on DVD or streaming services such as Shudder and Amazon Instant Video.
P.S. There’s an American remake of Pulse starring Kristin Bell. It’s garbage. Skip it and see the original instead.