Pulse (2006) Review
Pulse is the latest Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror movie, following in the footsteps of The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water. It's based on the film Kairo, which was given a limited release here earlier this year. I didn't see it but supposedly it carried a message about how technology has made us remote from each other and lonely. The remake marginalises this theme and instead it comes across as just another lame attempt to make a teen horror movie based around the latest computer technology.
In recent years, movie-makers have tried to find something scary in internet sites (Feardotcom) and video games (Stay Alive). Neither of those movies works and nor does Pulse, perhaps because computers simply aren't scary. Decades ago, when they were huge, whirring, beeping things that few people understood (like HAL in 2001 and Proteus in Demon Seed), they could frighten people. Today, they're too pervasive, too much a part of the furniture to be threatening. Being afraid of your PC is like being afraid of your toaster. If someone based a film on how bloody annoying computers can be, he might be on to something but scary they are not.
Kristen Bell, from the TV show Veronica Mars, plays Mattie, a college student who's worried about her hacker boyfriend Josh. He's become more and more withdrawn, communicating with her only by phone and instant messaging. Going to Josh's apartment, she finds him looking like a walking corpse, much of his skin covered in a kind of black fungus. Moments later, she follows him into his bedroom to find he's hanged himself.
To their horror, Mattie and her college friends (including R'n'B star Christina Milian) continue to get IMs from Josh's computer, which has been sold to slacker Dexter (Ian Somerhalder). Ruling him out as a suspect, they assume at first that a virus infection is responsible. They're partly right. Josh's computer has indeed been infected by something, but it's not a virus. Whatever it is, it's also in their computers now, and in their lives.
The nature of Pulse's high-tech menace is explained, but not adequately. I understand how the entities travel using our communication networks but not how they're able to take shape in our world. Since this is a remake of a Japanese horror film, you will have guessed that the shapes they take are those of pale, creepy ghosts that jump out from behind things and grab people. The ghosts are good at grabbing people, except when it comes to the film's stars Kristen Bell and Ian Somerhalder, who are able to evade them easily and even infiltrate their secret base. Yes, they have a secret base. In one scene, Ms Bell actually punches one of the ghosts in the face.
If you haven't worked it out already, Pulse is a pretty poor effort. There are one or two half-decent ideas (the increasing scale of the infection, the response to it) but the movie doesn't have the budget to realise them. It's a grim, humourless film that relies completely upon its ghouls being frightening. They aren't and so the movie is a bore. Despite having a running time of less than ninety minutes, it feels painfully long. Aesthetically, it's grainy, washed out and dirty. No doubt this is supposed to contribute to the feeling of dread but since there is no feeling of dread, it just makes the film unpleasant to watch as well as dull.