“Social media horror” is becoming a sub-genre of our beloved genre, with titles such as Fear.com (2002), Smiley (2012), The Den (2013), #Horror and Unfriended (2015), Friend Request (2016).
This would be a very interesting sub-genre… if only most of those movies didn’t suck – in my opinion, the only one worth watching among those listed above is Unfriended, at least for the interesting visual style. However, what many people don’t know is that Pulse (2001) is one of the first examples of a horror film that revolves around social media and, unlike its successors (including the subpar American sequel), is great.
The movie follows two storylines: on one side, we have a group of people working in a garden centre whose friend commits suicide upon working on a floppy disk (remember those?). On the other side, Ryosuke Kawashima discovers an unsettling truth while downloading a program that allows searching the internet.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the story, since Pulse is a horror gem that deserves to be discovered and experienced in its twists and turns.
This movie works on a larger scale than the likes of Ringu (1998) and Ju-On (2002): you might think, by reading the plot, that Pulse is about a cursed or possessed laptop. It’s not. Scene by scene, the plot unfolds and a sinister mystery with it. This whole concept of having the viewer trying to guess what’s really going on is one of the most interesting parts of the movie.
Another aspect I thoroughly love about Pulse is how scary it is. Among the notorious J-Horror films, to me Pulse is the most frightening one, mainly due to two features: camera-work and the spectacular sound design.
In terms of sounds, Pulse should be held as an example and put into books about filmmaking. I’m not even exaggerating, the film sounds fantastic: a beautiful score is backed up by clever decisions to remove any (literally any) noise or sound in the most intense scenes. The way the sound is edited in and out certain scenes makes them memorable and effective beyond any imagination.
The outstanding camera-work, which goes hand to hand with the cinematography, is something worth praising as well. Other than one, every sequence in the film is realised through single, long takes. This technique allows the characters to act as if they are on stage: for example, the movie doesn’t cut back and forth from one character to the other during a dialogue scene. On the contrary, the viewer gets to see their mannerism in its fullest details and, as a result, action and dialogues flaw seamlessly and naturally like in a Tarantino’s film.
There is one scene where a woman jumps from a tower to commit suicide: thanks to the fantastic editing, I had to check on the internet to make sure it wasn’t real footage! That scene is one of the most realistic I have ever seen on screen.
Besides, Pulse is a film I would define as “larger than life”. Although the movie stars as two separate small stories of regular people dealing with a supernatural threat, as the plot progresses and unfolds it becomes clear that the meaning of it is much deeper and nihilistic than meets the eye. Through a dialogue between Kawashima and computer expert Harue Karasawa (the beautiful and talented Koyuki from The Last Samurai) we kind of get a glimpse on what Pulse is really about. That specific scene, besides being scary in its implication, beautifully done and intense, is also extremely depressing and nihilistic and turns the film from a great horror flick to a magnificent horror drama that sticks with you for a long time.
In short, everything in the movie is great from the believable characters to the scares, to the meaning to the technical features.
Against my better judgment, if I have to pinpoint some negative, I’d say that it takes at least two views to fully recognise and become familiar with. Yet, the CGI, parsimoniously utilised in the film, looks dated and even a bit silly at parts.
Besides that, if you haven’t seen Pulse yet and you’re into horror movies that are social relate, do yourself a favour and seek it out!
Pulse (2001) 9/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – Pulse