|Belatedly arriving in U.S. theaters just as the J-horror phenomenon seems to have played itself out, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 cyberchiller Pulse, in which a cadre of singularly
depressive ghosts haunts the internet, remains the genre’s pièce de résistance, if I may mix my international metaphors. Indeed, Pulse may be the most viscerally effective horror film I’ve ever seen, in large part because it redefines the very notion of horror, suggesting that the threat of physical harm pales beside the promise of eternal solitude. The first time I saw it, at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, I seriously considered walking out after half an hour — not because I didn’t like the movie, but because I thought I might faint from sheer terror. No joke.
Some will no doubt find Pulse too cerebral and deliberate to be truly scary. For those of us more affected by the power of suggestion, though, those qualities are precisely what make the film so incredibly unsettling. Kurosawa invests even mundane, expository scenes with a palpable unease (mostly via off-kilter framing and voyeuristic camera moves), while his set pieces proceed at the maddening pace of a 28.8K download, creating a strangely somnambulistic atmosphere, drawing out the anticipatory tension until you’ve felt every hair on the back of your neck stand at attention, one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one. His singular approach here is best exemplified by the unforgettable “couch scene,” which is nothing more than a beautiful woman walking toward a young man with a slow, stylized stride that’s interrupted at one point by an inexplicable movement halfway between a near-stumble and a Kubuki dance step. (Words are painfully inadequate; you have to see it.)
Other fabulously creepy touches are so subtle as to go almost unnoticed, like a brief glimpse of a young girl pushing a library cart with her head bowed, moving at a tempo that suggests the resigned gait of the damned. The movie’s lack of psychological complexity, meanwhile, which at first glance seemed like a failing, revealed itself upon repeat viewings as a strength, with the characters’ near-anonymity tied thematically to the notion of other people as essentially unknowable (note the look of avid, mournful curiosity on the face of the ghost who comes over the couch), leaving each of us stranded in a room/prison of our own. Thus endeth my intellectual defense of Pulse‘s merits; the bottom line, though, is both blissfully simple and utterly subjective: It scared the living shit out of me. — Mike D’Angelo
| So I’m twenty minutes into this Hollywood satire, all psyched about how I’m going to make myself look smart by comparing it to Nathanael West’s short novel about thirties Hollywood, The Day of the Locust, when director Scott Coffey one-ups me by sticking the title on a theater marquee in the middle of a shot. Much of the film is similarly self-referential, even justifying the use of shaky DV with a bit of dialogue about blurry images on TV.
That said, when he gets past the preciousness, Coffey has some funny and affecting material up his sleeve. A long-time bit-part actor, he manages to parlay his experiences into a set of comic humiliations for Naomi Watts’s title character, a struggling L.A. actress. Watts is pitiable and funny — occasionally at the same time, as in a scene wherein she and a fellow actress compete over who can cry on cue faster. In its best moments, the film evokes West’s Locust admonition: “Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.” — Peter Smith
|If You’re in the Mood for . . .
. . .Sexual tension concealed by layers of muslin: Pride and Prejudice
It’s hard to believe anything could top the BBC’s 1995 version, but a period-costumed Keira Knightley gives it a go.
. . .Jennifer Aniston doing “hot”: Derailed
Judging by this chemistry-free thriller, Jen and Clive Owen won’t be adopting babies together anytime soon.
. . .Metaphors about life being a game: Bee Season
Because nothing says party time like Richard Gere stagemothering a young spelling champion.
. . .Rapper hagiography: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
50 Cent’s ego is fondled in this movie about his rise to stardom, in the model of 8 Mile or Hustle & Flow. Did he mention he was shot nine times? Because he was. Nine.
. . .Insight into machismo: Take My Eyes (Te Doy Mis Ojos)
This award-laden Spanish thriller about a woman trying to leave the abusive man she loves may not sound like date fodder, but there’s nothing like a brilliant story about the allure of violent men to make your relationship seem terrifically healthy.
| This week, you could satisfy your redneck bloodlust with Rob Zombie’s fun The Devil’s Rejects, or your redneck funnybone with the inscrutably popular Hee Haw: The Next Generation — oh, I mean, Blue Collar TV Season One. You’ll know you’re not a redneck when . . . you purchase the massive new box-set edition of La Dolce Vita. And you’ll know you’re a comedy buff if you rent the preachy-but-still-fun Margaret Cho: Assassin, before depressing the hell out of yourself with The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, the last taped Lenny Bruce concert, a brutal collapse of a show that’s more likely to leave you dumbfounded than laughing.
And if you’re a suburban magick fanatic, you won’t inflict anything else on your date but the goliath Buffy the Vampire: The Chosen Collection, a forty-disc monstrosity packed with every spell, hormone, fang, and stake that every aired. If you’re going to plunk down $200 bucks for this, you’ve probably already debated the merits of each and every episode in online forums, so I won’t even attempt to assess the collection. However, let me offer this piece of dating advice: Do not attempt to casually slip a forty-disc box-set into the on-deck circle of your DVD player. It will lurk there, like some demon that Buffy cannot slay, for months if not years, forcing your date to begrudgingly allow an episode here or there while you quietly seethe, sucking the blood from your relationship. Instead, offer up grand promises to your date that you may never actually keep (like “You get to pick DVDs ’til death do us part, if you let me watch all of these this weekend”). Then bunker down for a marathon. If you don’t slay the beast quickly, it will be your doom. — Logan Hill