Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Roundup, Instant Play Edition #2: Pulse/Kairo (2001)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo/Pulse (2001) sustains the dim glories and subterranean uncertainties of the expressionist/noir vision. The movie is offhand in its exposition, incidentally plotted, like Caligari or Cat People, and demands that the viewer constantly strain to see exactly what is that in the frame's periphery, and why is it so scary? Like so many of its late '70s-early '80s American progenitors, Pulse features young friends in peril, and holds out thwarted hopes of rescue and safety, until the world itself grows indistinct and silent, while everyone recedes into a whispering gloom.

In his indispensable book, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (at least indispensable to me, reading it when I was twelve years old, ready to marry a monster from outer space, if only she'd have me), Carlos Clarens points out that narrative gestures may be perfunctory in the horror film, but one must forgive such lapses with a barely apologetic shrug. After all, as Clarens writes of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur's approach, "for the night creatures themselves, these films substituted our dread for them." So the last special effect is produced by the viewers, consuming indistinct objects but never completely understanding them, even as they are held in the hands and brought up to the face, as close as one's shadow, and in the deepening gloom indistinguishable from the self. Pulse eventually sees the whole world this way, a place without stories, just the open sea and the fog rolling in.

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