Pulse (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Pulse is the latest Japanese horror film to receive an English-language remake. Not having seen the original, I can't make comparisons, but I can state that this is the worst translation within the genre to date, outdistancing such worthy contenders as The Grudge and The Ring. In general, I like horror, but the watered-down PG-13 content of movies like Pulse is depressing. It's not scary, it's not chilling, and it's not interesting. (Although we are treated to a bathtub scene in which an actress choreographs her movements in such a way that she reveals nothing to the camera despite getting the fright of her life.) Pulse takes things a step further. There are no effective "boo!" moments, the characters are personality deprived, and the production has such a generically dark look that it could have been composed by a computer. Director Jim Sonzero's lack of experience is on display for all those unfortunate enough to waste money and time on his feature debut.

The story, for anyone interested enough to keep reading, goes something like this… Technology is evil. In addition to bringing porn, spam, and Harry Knowles into our homes, it has provided a conduit by which ghosts/ghouls/aliens/demons/creatures (who knows what they are?) can slide into our dimension. They surf along the EM spectrum, riding the unused bandwidth like waves. (Engineers and scientists, stop laughing!) From time to time, they get hungry, so they search for a college student and suck out his will to live (sort of what this movie does to those trapped watching it). The only way to avoid the ignominious fate of being turned into a greasy stain on the wall is to cover up the windows and doors with red electrical tape. No one addresses what happens if some poor fool tries to use gray tape.

Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) is an undergrad psych major who gets to witness her boyfriend, Josh (Jonathan Tucker), hang himself. Why he doesn't turn into a black spot like everyone else is not adequately explained. Later, after getting chat room messages from Josh's login, she tracks down his computer, which has been sold to Dexter McCarthy (Ian Somerhalder), but he hasn't plugged it in yet, so he couldn't be sending messages. Eventually, he starts poking around on Josh's hard drive, and finds some unpleasant things (none of which feature naked women and animals). He and Mattie soon figure out that the world is in apocalyptic trouble, and the only way to save civilization is to take a virus created by Josh and infect the source computer server.

Revealing more would not only give away the ending but would illustrate how truly preposterous this motion picture is. Preposterousness is not inherently bad (I mean, consider The Lord of the Rings, for example), but it's the job of the filmmakers to make us believe. The incredible must be made credible. We must be drawn into the story's world. This never comes close to happening in Pulse. We're outsiders looking in, and we see every idiotic plot point for what it is. Sonzero's bland, by-the-book direction distances us, and the lead actors, Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell and Lost's Ian Somerhalder, don't sell their characters. We don't care about Mattie or Dexter. They're rats in a maze. It's irrelevant whether they live or die. In fact, it's irrelevant whether the world as a whole continues or not. All that matters is getting to the end credits so we can go home.

Wes Craven's name is associated with the screenplay, but I have to believe this underwent significant re-writes after he turned in his draft. This is an atrocious script, and it doesn't help that Sonzero is clueless about what to do with it. Bell and Somerhalder lack energy and charisma, but that could be more a function of the material than their abilities. The CGI effects are inferior to those I've seen in state-of-the-art computer games, and someone should clue the filmmakers into the fact that dim lighting and desaturated color do not in and of themselves generate atmosphere. Sitting through this movie is a joyless chore. Pulse doesn't have one.

Pulse (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2006-08-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1