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More on the Scariest Movie EVER (with spoilers)

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.

8 Responses to “More on the Scariest Movie EVER (with spoilers)”

  1. Hervé Girod
    April 6th, 2006 | 6:46 pm

    I really like this movie, and more generally I am a fan of mostly all Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movies I saw. And luckily I could see a lot of his films in France : Kairo (a book from Kurosawa about the same story is available in France and is as creepy as the movie), Cure (a really extraordinary movie too, but very depressing about the state of Japan and/or even humanity), Bright Future (the story deals with two “no-future” young adults and a Jellyfish !!), Licence to live (in which we almost never really know if the main character is alive), and Seance, which says demons are inevitable because they personify our culpability . OK, OK, now you know that I am a BIG BIG fan, and that his movies can be very depressing.

  2. bek-spejs
    April 10th, 2006 | 6:40 am

    I gave up after 30 minutes of watching this. Not because it was scary but it was boring. Next day I thought, maybe I missed something, why Cynthia was so scared? After giving a second try I was even more bored, and angry at myself – why am I watching this? Because the answer is – Cynthia recommended it. The fact is also that on most reviews here I have totally oposite opinions to yours. Still, for some reason you chellenge me with those. I remember I was especially excited when I was reading Grizzly Man review. I love it – it is so pure. It is very individual experience when we are watching horror/ghosts/fantasy films beacuse we don’t really have experiences with that in real life. It is very connected with our personalities and beliefes. I remember watching The Exorcist for the first time 10 years ago – it scared me so much that I couldn’t sleep for two weeks – but there was also people who laughed at it and with it – for me it was very serious film. But I can understand that. Kairo is different – it doesn’t have a story or the story is really weak – but I saw it as metaphor for alienation, depression and loneliness in modern high-tech world, especially Japan. In other words we should be feared of loneliness. But maybe it is not so – maybe that opinion was only my defensive mechanisms against boredom because I was not able to feel the chills.

  3. cynthia rockwell
    April 10th, 2006 | 2:22 pm

    yeah it’s definitely all about loneliness/alienation/depression, all of which are hot-button issues for me, which is probably why it affected me so deeply. but mostly it was just those images. i found an image of one of the ghosts somewhere on the web and jumped when i saw it, i had to leave the page immediately.

  4. Hervé Girod
    April 11th, 2006 | 3:37 pm

    I bet you remmember the part towards the end (in the abandoned factory/warehouse) where a ghost says to a young teenager : I exist. It was one of the creepiest passage of the movie for me, yet nothing really happened…

  5. bek-spejs
    April 12th, 2006 | 9:55 am

    Sorry for my english….
    The images are great… Japanese developed that kind of, I like to call, “psychological movements” of camera and characters. Only problem, to me, is that it is not always well used within story. But when you isolate the scene it’s a piece of art for itself. I have a problem with ghost stories when their (ghost’s) only (main) purpose is to scare people in front of camera. It would be great to see that as side effect of something more psychologicaly deeper and logical… Next I want to see is Paperhouse 🙂 I expect more than just images

    I’m not horror fan or anything like that – but these are some horror films I like in general and I truly recommend:

    Ginger Snaps (2000) dir. John Fawcett (very good film!)
    Wicker Man, The (1973) dir. Robin Hardy (trippy images and soundtrack)
    Spoorloos aka The Vanishing (1988) dir. George Sluizer (not really horror film but very good one chiller-thriller!)
    Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) dir. E. Elias Merhige (very entertaining)
    Night Of The Demon (1957) dir. Jacques Tourneur (Scarry!)
    Don’t Look Now (1973) dir. Nicholas Roeg

    I don’t think these are great films but they got under my skin and I love them for many reasons.

  6. Jake M.
    May 1st, 2006 | 5:02 pm

    Glad to find someone else who was as creeped out by Pulse as I was. I finally watched it the other night, and now, a few restless and interminable sleepless nights later, really wish I hadn’t. It’s just so unbearably desolate, pure and relentless dread suffusing almost every frame. The last film I saw that was so utterly hopeless was either Time of the Wolf or All About Lily Chou-Chou. And you are dead on – the very incoherence of its plot (one of its chief weaknesses according to its sundry detractors), the lack of any sort of audience-friendly “why”, is the very source of its very palpable terror. Which just gets me all the more steamed about the forthcoming American remake, which I’m sure will be just disastrously hideous and disappointing in every possible and suffer from a massive surfeit of exposition and explanation and miss entirely the dangerous allure of the original.

  7. cynthia
    May 2nd, 2006 | 12:15 pm

    interesting, i wasn’t really depressed by time of the wolf though i definitely agree that it’s completely hopeless and desolate. but i’m glad to hear someone agrees…the most horrifying scene for me (and the place where i had to turn it off) was early on when the guy is trapped in the room and a ghost is running toward him in slow motion, and sort of stumbles, and he hides under the chair, and it peeks under….*shiver*

  8. Killer Content
    May 17th, 2006 | 9:50 am

    Your comment set me in mood of watching this movie. But my favourite one is The Call. It is reallya masterpiece.It affects you deeply without any disgusting moments of bleeding bodies and torn heads, arms and running out brains. On the whole I am not a great fan of scary movies. But this one really gets me. Recently I had a great disappointment going to the movies to see ” when the stranger Calls” – what nonsense. It is not even a parody. It is absolute flop.