The whole Japanese horror film vibe has pretty much been absorbed by Hollywood by now, with chalk-white kids and malevolent appliances spilling out of all corners of the frame, and onto the resume of seemingly every young WB and UPN starlet in the process. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 masterpiece Kairo, however, deals with concepts that are more resistant to translation than your average Ring or Grudge, bypassing the standard stock hauntings for an abstract vision of techno-dread.
Eschewing any big shock moments in favor of a relentless, never resolved, creeping unease, the movie's vision of an instant messenger-aided apocalypse made for a shivery, unusually lyrical horror film. Hell isn't other people, in Kurosawa's paranoid, doomy view—but, rather, an absence of same.
Pulse, the inevitable, oft-delayed American remake, captures almost none of the original's ambience, piling on rote head-banging shocks in lieu of clammy ambiguity. Kurosawa's basic premise (here adapted by Wes Craven and directed by video vet Jim Sonzero) remains the same: While investigating the death of a hacker friend, a group of college students (including Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell) discover that the afterlife’s hard drive is full, inspiring suicide in those unlucky enough to glimpse the increasing number of stranded, lonely souls lurking about.
This primary idea—that of a society so full to the brim with communication devices that actual human interaction becomes a novelty—is potent enough to still evoke a shiver or two, no matter how inept the execution. Even those unfamiliar with the original, however, will likely feel the missed potential here, starting with the very nature of the film’s shadow-dwelling antagonists. Whereas the specters in the original film were morose, even pathetic figures, causing mayhem almost as a byproduct, those of the remake are just the same old shrieking boogeymen, popping out of closets and under beds at a moment's notice. As the volume goes up, any sense of pins and needles fades out. Abort, retry, fail.