Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse has retained a well-earned place atop "scariest movie" lists since its release in 2001. The Japanese hit, which was remade in 2006, stands out amidst now-classic features like The Ring and Dark Water, which defined contemporary J-Horror in the new millennium.
Without beating around the bush, Kurosawa's existential breakdown is one of the finest encapsulations of techno-terror ever put to screen. Forget the bombastic, but entertaining, thrills of contemporary zombie apocalypses, viral outbreaks, and psychos; its Kurosawa's study in alienation which strikes a chord amidst those millennial classics. In Pulse, technology itself is a tool for loneliness. The Internet has unwillingly become host, or at least gateway, to the souls of the recently deceased, slowly squashed from a crammed afterlife by over-population. Unlike Romero's dead, who overflowed out of Hell to consume the living, Kurosawa's ghosts have stumbled out of the afterlife to save everyone, kind of.
Pulse's power lies in how it builds tension; allowing pure cinematic terror to slip from screen to audience with insipid skill. Pulse takes place in the most mundane and domestic of locations, but never feels safe thanks to the omni-present threat of existential dread. Again and again the image of a scorched human outline- left by the recently deceased- becomes a literal black mark on previously safe lodgings. Red taped doors warn of terrifying spirits. A computer asks the simple question; 'Would you like to see a ghost?'. The characters either strain to retain normalcy, or slowly fall victim to mounting supernatural pressure. People become increasingly detached, disappear, commit suicide in brutal ways, or become catatonic.
Jun'ichiro Hayashi's drab cinematography builds an air of isolation, depressing the already cold clinical modern world, but retaining a jarring beauty in the darkest locations. Takefumi Haketa's soundtrack slips between industrial ambience and the screeching choirs of old school ghost stories, further fusing those classic and contemporary influences into a steadily spiraling nightmare, the kind that spills out over the entire world thanks to the world wide web.
Kurosawa has the balls to take it all the way too. Global realisation, the revelation of the spirits, is an unforeseen door to human extinction or immortality. Few horror films can start so intimately and deservedly spiral so explosively. But then, rarely do horror films come as terrifying, bold, and far-reaching. Kurosawa has a detached kind of curiosity that allows the film to take its time with the scares and present stark horror without seeming over-dramatic. The result is a two-hour lesson in mood-crunching horror and pitch-perfect chills. The kind you don't shake off.
PULSE (2001) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KIYOSHI KUROSAWA / STARRING: KUMIKO ASO, HARUHIKO KATO, KOYUKI, KARUME ARISAKA / RELEASE DATE: 10TH JULY