Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Film Review: Pulse (aka Kairo) (2001)

Pulse (aka Kairo) (Review)
Japan/2001
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
*A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!

"...boasts some of the most terrifying visuals and sounds I've ever seen in a horror movie."

After a string of bizarre, unexpected suicides, two groups of friends find the deaths are linked to an internet webcam...

Pulse tells two stories at once. The first story follows Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso) and her friends at a plant company. Taguchi, Michi's peer, has been missing for days working on a computer disk. Worried about his absence, Michi visits his home and finds him in a reclusive, peculiar state — which leads to his suicide on the very same visit. The second story follows Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato), a college student who has recently connected to the internet. Ryosuke stumbles upon a ghostly website with nightmarish images. Ryosuke seeks the help of Harue Karasawa (Koyuki), a computer science graduate student. Like Michi, Ryosuke and Harue begin to experience the phantom invasion. Eventually both stories interconnect and lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Pulse is a great horror film. Although I may have botched the synopsis, the stories are fairly straightforward and effective. (Blame my shoddy writing.) The narrative is very intricate and even meaningful — something we don't see often in horror nowadays. Although not very subtle, the plot revolves around the themes of isolationism, loneliness, depression, and death — all covered in a neat message about technology. Aside from the well-appreciated themes, the film also shines as a horror film. This isn't a jump-scare horror movie, either. The film relies more on its spooky atmosphere, the dreadful ambiance that keeps you on edge. The film's excellent use of ghoulish audio also delivers tons of frights. Top that off with some ghostly images and you have a very chilling film.

The pacing is hit-or-miss, though. For the most part, Pulse works very well as a slow-burn horror film. The slow pace is used effectively to conjure great tension and buildup. It also allows for some very smooth storytelling. I'm a big fan of slow-burn horror films, really. In this case, however, there is a chunk of the film that feels too slow. I'd say at least 20% of the film consists of scenes that could have been shortened or removed entirely without affecting the plot or horror. These scenes tend to unnecessarily drag and bloat the film — which is really a drag. They're not completely useless as they feature some chilling scenes and allow the plot to progress, but they could've been fine-tuned — that's all.

The cast is great. The performances are very organic and grounded. Kumiko Aso and Haruhiko Kato are great leads and the supporting cast is equally splendid. The film is shot beautifully, capturing each and every haunting frame with a murky style reflecting the film's themes. The music is superb, matching the tone perfectly and conjuring plenty of chills on its own. Writer and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa crafts a haunting horror film with wonderful themes. The horror is exemplary — never reverting to the easy, jump-scare route. The plot is effective and meaningful, sharing interesting themes and tormented characters — a pinch of subtlety would've been appreciated, though. However, as previously stated, a significant portion of the film is inefficient.

Overall, Pulse is a great horror film. It boasts some of the most terrifying visuals and sounds I've ever seen in a horror movie. The film's themes, although blatant, are also compelling —  we don't see this type of thought-provoking horror nowadays. It's, all-around, a very effective horror film worth seeking. However, be warned, this film is the definition of slow-burn — and, even as a slow-burn fan, it often becomes too slow for its own good. If you can tolerate a slow pace, you're in for a terrifying treat.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, including grizzly images of suicide.

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