There’s a new J-horror film out, and, as always, the flickering terror on screen pales in intensity next to the scary overpraise that seems to accompany any movie that combines ghosts and videotape and Japanese subtitles. Pulse was made back in 2001, between Ringu and Ju-On, and its hushed visions of creepy shadow figures insinuating their way into the land of the living, via red-taped doors and a sinister website, marked a crucial development in the grainy-tech-meets-the-afterlife genre. The writer-director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, creates a handful of images that have the unsettling oddity of a nightmare suspended in time. When a ghost who looks just like an ordinary woman — no Kabuki whiteface, no rotting flesh — approaches a young man who is frozen in fear, her slow-motion movements, which are like tai chi from hell, are as enigmatic as they are languid. The anxiety is there in the atmosphere of anticipation — What’s she doing? Getting ready to explode? — and also in the soundtrack that cuts off in silence, as if entering the dead zone.
Watching Pulse, though, you could almost die of anticipation. A recurring image on the website, of a figure sitting with a bag over its head in a cluttered and windowless bedroom, is scary because we keep waiting — and waiting — to see what’s under the bag. The setup proves infinitely more disquieting than the follow-through. Did I mention that nothing in the two snail-paced hours of Pulse makes close to a shred of sense? You could say that the movie is ”inexplicable,” but the line that separates the uncanny from the obtuse has rarely been so thin.