Pulse (Jim Sonzero, 2006)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (2001) is arguably the best horror film ever made in the past decade. Yes, that rules out Hideo Nakata's influential Ringu (1999), and all the Shyamalans, Cravens, and Amenabars from the top spot. Kairo has that odd mix of creeping terror and philosophical possibilities, all cramped up in a free-flowing narrative that isn't dragged by typical conventions of what is supposed to be scary and what is not. It also has Kurosawa's distilled directorial tact; making sure that his scare tactics doesn't go overboard --- showing just little by little, until all of a sudden, apocalypse has already invaded the plot. Wes Craven probably thought Kairo is pretty excellent too. He bought the American rights to the remake after all, rewrote the entire plot to follow American horror conventions, plucked out a nobody director out of nowhere to helm his written and rewritten screenplay, and release it to the public.
Jim Sonzero is the nobody director. Well, probably not exactly nobody. He does direct MTVs and commercials, but other than that, he's pretty much unknown in film world. He takes in the project, probably not understanding what made the original film such a wonderful piece of horror filmmaking. He goes all out, as if he were directing a 30 second commercial for a telecommunications corporation. First five minutes to the film, my eyesight has been overloaded with images of cellphones, people calling through cellphones, laptops, computers, and other gizmos. Sure, the film is about these modern modes of communication, but to practically drown the film with reminders through recurring images of such is, to a certain extent, insulting to the intellect. After all, Kurosawa did imply on the theme, as well as other exciting themes and possibilities, without overloading his film with outright and overt images of what he intends.
The direction is one of the serious faults in Pulse. Another is Craven's rewriting of Kurosawa's story. The beauty of Kurosawa's Kairo is that it's open to so many possibilities, so many theories, so many explanations, that just through it's open-endedness, it's a terrifying creature. Craven insists on his own interpretation, and with Sonzero's directing, literally grabs their audiences' hands and forcedly feeds their interpretation like it was very good, when in fact, it's quite crappy. Ghost-like creatures thriving on this mysterious bandwidth that scientists suddenly open up to provide faster and more efficient modes of communication, spread through viruses --- all of that invented theory to Kurosawa's masterpiece is quite a load of crap, and to sit through Craven and Sonzero's theory branching to more ridiculous stuff, is really quite a painful experience.
When I was in high school, whenever I didn't have time to read the thick novels assigned, I would just buy those Cliff Notes to make sure I have enough information to pass an examination. Afterwards, I'd try to read the novel and a world of difference occurs. Sonzero's Pulse is pretty much like a Cliff Notes of Kurosawa's Kairo. Craven and Sonzero cook up a more swallowable and easier-to-watch version of Kurosawa's sprawling nightmare vision. It's dumbed down a hundred percent, the characters shrunk into television soap opera students with problems with romance and all those boring stuff that's better left to television, and adorned with computer graphics and thick make up to make the ghosts look scarier. For others, it might be enough, but for those who really want to get a more satisfying experience, I suggest you just find a copy of Kurosawa's Kairo and forget this version ever existed.