Shot from A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). These films often have a creeping atmospheric tone uncommon in mainstream HollywoodTWITTER/ARYATURIA

In an attempt to find new things to watch, we stumbled upon a list of the “scariest” horror movies ranked by average viewer heart rate – as scientific a measure of scare-factor as you’re going to get. One thing that seemed blatantly underrepresented was the East Asian film genre the two of us have discussed on many an occasion.

“Its slow burn [paralyses] you with fear, keeping you glued to the screen while the ectoplasmic worms devour your brain cells”.

Like mainstream Hollywood horror, East Asian horror has haunted houses, paranormal investigators, and dubious mediums. However, it does not seem to share Hollywood’s penchant for jumpscares. The scare factor in East Asian films tends to come from their atmosphere, and this is something they invest in as their key asset. Many of these films could be seen as creepy rather than traditionally scary. It’s more about the chill at the back of your spine, the impending sense of doom, instead of the instant gratification that a demon face jumping out of a corner provides. As such, they come across as subtler horror experiences, that might not be for everyone, but are a refreshing change to the constant jumpscares that sometimes come across as cheap and unoriginal.

Poster of Pulse (2001)TWITTER/RAYOFPITCHBLACK

There are numerous East Asian films in this genre, but here are three we enjoyed, and that we offer as suggestions for your spooky lockdown watching this weekend.

Pulse (2001)

Pulse is a horror slightly ahead of its time – its soft and hazy palette acts as a vintage filter, its boxy PCs giving away its age slightly more, but its key theme is relevant as ever. Described as the “definitive Internet horror movie” even in more recent years, Pulse is the story of loneliness through a screen. It follows a few young Japanese as they try to investigate the mysterious disappearances of friends and colleagues around them, starting with a website asking a simple question – “do you want to meet a ghost?”. Like many J-horrors it is about mood more than anything, and the emptiness and hollowness of Pulse’s Japan is absolutely essential to its message. The film evokes a strange kind of vulnerability, depicting deserted concrete streets and sitting alone in the dark with only a computer screen to light up your view. The dread crawls under your skin. The fear felt in Pulse isn’t just the fear of seeing a ghost – rather, it’s the fear of the prospect of becoming a ghost, wandering unnoticed and alone. As such, the mood serves the film perfectly, making everything that bit more unsettling, leaving you sombre and cold at the end. Ultimately, it is haunting in a melancholic way, and its reflective message may creep into you for nights to come.

Available on Prime Video.

TWITTER/KORENNV

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters is undoubtedly a gorgeous film right from its first few scenes, with its rolling fields and sunlit waters like a picturesque fantasy house. Don’t let that fool you, though, because while it retains its visual aesthetic throughout, this horror-thriller is nowhere near dreamy and warm. The film begins with two sisters returning home from a mental asylum right into the not-so-welcoming arms of their stepmother. As the film escalates, it blurs the lines between reality and imagination, creating an immersive and nail-biting experience for the viewer. Out of the three we are recommending, this is probably the most ‘mainstream’, with its fair share of classic haunted house terror moments and a jumpscare or two. The suspenseful plot and a pressing need to uncover the mystery keeps you on your toes. Stunning performances from the actors bring some truly intense – and insane – characters to life. This is a strong narrative combined with beautiful cinematography and a purposeful use of colour, from its costumes to the bright kitchen floor contributing to the unnerving atmosphere. A Tale of Two Sisters is a whale of a ride and worth checking out.

Available on Shudder / Prime Video.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)


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Noroi follows a paranormal researcher as he films a documentary exploring a series of supernatural incidents. From Japanese game shows scouting psychic talent, to shaky VHS footage of demonic rituals, to dead pigeons falling from the sky, Noroi illustrates an East Asian Lovecraftian world foreign and filled with existential dread, yet also strangely realistic. The unconventional found-footage format leads you on a first-person perspective slow roll through early 2000s Japan that gradually picks up its pace until you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster you can’t wait to get off of. News headlines, nonchalantly interpolated with the footage of the documentary, desensitize you to the impact of death, crafting a dangerous world not so removed from our own. Noroi uses its slow burn to paralyse you with fear, keeping you glued to the screen while the ectoplasmic worms devour your brain cells. Noroi is different due to its mockumentary nature, but it is well-executed and its folklore feels a bit too real for comfort.

Available on Shudder / Prime Video, and also on Youtube.

If you’re looking for something new this Halloween weekend, why not try one of these? There are plenty more where they came from ...