March 18, 2006
More than a week after watching Pulse (Kairo), I am now finally able to sleep with the lights off again. And perhaps write a little about it. I have never in my life been so disturbed by a movie. And I like scary movies. But this one was different. In American horror films you can expect that the ghost is always caught or saved or figured out in the end. Solve their murder and they’ll leave you alone, etc. This brings some sense of closure. You watch these movies knowing you’ll walk away having a handle on it. Even if, like in The Ring, (to which this movie is compared) there is the suggestion that the ghost isn’t actually gotten rid of, that is usually perceived more as just a marketing ploy to let us know there’s going to be a sequel. We don’t actually walk out scared that that little girl is gonna come get us. Or at least I didn’t. (Spoilers ahead)
But this movie is Japanese and didn’t have this closure. In fact once it’s figured out what is the deal with these horrifying spectres, it just gets worse and more horrifying. Partly because the explanation we are given makes no sense. This is basically just faulty storytelling, but in the context of the film it doesn’t matter. In fact it makes it scarier, because the unknown is always scarier than the explained. Every scary movie ceases to be scary once its mystery is explained. So the fact that the “explanation” we get makes no sense keeps it unknown and myserious. To add to this, the problem is not “solved” in the end–in fact the ghosts win. It is an apocalyptic ghost story with no sense of closure (unless you consider an existential apocalypse with all but two people on the planet dead and soon to die closure). So not only do we never quite understand these ghosts, but they win. When you walk out of the theater, they’re still out there. Creeping around in the corners of my bedroom and forcing me to keep the lights on while I sleep.
I can’t think of any American horror film that does this, but then I’m not really a conisseur of horror films. I just see a few of the big-name ones once in awhile, and they all definitely follow a certain formula that is completely overturned in this film. It is a total mindfuck. I’m curious to see the American remake now, to see if it makes the film conform to the typical commercial American horror genre standards. (UPDATE: I have been reminded of Blair Witch Project, which does in fact let the ghost win. But for some reason that movie didn’t scare me at all. Plus the ‘witch’ is contained to one specific area that you’d have to enter specifically in order to see her, so all we gotta do is avoid that area and we’re safe. In Pulse, the ghosts are everywhere, day and night, public places and private, whether you turn your computer on voluntarily or not.)
I should add that the film has its hokey moments, of course, like all horror films. There is a ridiculously inane conversation between one of the main characters and a grad student in computer science–her brilliant expert advice for his ghost-in-the-computer problem is to hit the print screen button. Or to “click it to bookmark it.” Was the writer of this screenplay unable to locate a single person who had the most basic computer knowledge to tell him how laughable that is? Apparently not.