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Movie Review: Pulse (2006)

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The apocalypse has gone low-scale and high-tech. Pulse is the latest Japanese export to be remade in the Hollywood tradition. There has been a big outcry against remakes in general of late, yet they still manage to make decent money, and as long as this is true, they will continue to be made. Remakes and reimaginings are nothing new to filmmaking; there have been remakes for as nearly as long as there have been films.

Is Pulse scary? Depends on what your looking for. If you are a big fan of the jump scare type films, you will be disappointed, likewise if you are looking for gore, you'd best look elsewhere. What this film does succeed at is creating an atmosphere; there are a few jump scare moments, but they aren't terribly frightening. The story centers on our overreliance on technology and the possible consequences therein. The film is more frightening in the build-up and the implications than anything that is overtly displayed. Although, I have to admit not truly understanding the reasons behind the virus/dead people.

Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Spartan) stars as Mattie, a college student whose boyfriend commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. Shortly after his demise, Mattie and her friends start to receive messages from the deceased. Mattie starts to look into the case, discovering, with the help of Dexter (Ian Somerhalder), that the cause appears to be a computer-born virus. What is this virus? Are the messengers actually dead people or is it actually a techno-virus taking the form of ghostly apparitions?

As the story progresses, the story background becomes more epic, even while it remains the more personal horror of one young woman. Mattie's friends are dying all around her, and her desire to survive and stop the horror increases, while news reports indicate that it is spreading beyond her college town. People all over the country are dying, radiating outward from her school. This epic nature becomes even more evident late in the film as they roam the empty streets. This is all building to a conclusion that I will let you discover for yourself.

I admit, this is not a great film, and in many eyes it may not even be a good one. There are a variety of characters who have brief appearances with no explanation of why they are there or what their specific roles are. For example, there is a doctor played by Ron Rifkin who has a couple of scenes that Bell's Mattie bounces thoughts off of, but his relationship to events is unclear, and his possible demise glossed over, I guess to just get him off the screen. Then there is the still unclear, but clearly strained, relationship between Mattie and her mother, glimpsed at in a couple of phone messages. Others float in and out of the periphery as well.

What really caught me up was the feeling of no escape. Once the virus gets out and people start dying, there is no escape. That feeling, and the resulting atmosphere, make understanding the root causes unnecessary. The idea of being trapped – that no matter what you do, you are doomed – is the most palpable feeling to be gotten from Pulse. In that respect it is not like your typical film where you have a hero or heroine who will save the day at the end; the best you can hope is to merely survive, as there is no way of stopping what is to come.

Sure the film has a familiar structure, but the way it plays out was not typical. The ending actually reminded me of Escape from LA, another entertaining if not terribly high quality movie. It, too, had a theme of humanity's reliance on technology.

Kristen Bell really anchors this film. Whatever flaws the movie has, she is able to give it that center. She ably plays all the required emotions, and is just a wonderful young actress. She has great charisma and likeability, she can play to a wide range, and this is a mere glimpse into her future potential. The rest of the cast has some recognizable actors, but aren't nearly up to the task as well as Bell was.

The film was Jim Sonzero's first big screen effort, working from a screenplay from horror master Wes Craven and Ray Wright based on the original film from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. They did a nice job of creating the amosphere and some creepy scenes in conjunction with DP, Mark Plummer, who gives the film a washed-out look that helps the creepy sadness that is pervasive throughout. I get the distinct feeling that there is a better film sitting on the cutting room floor, as this was a victim of post-production tinkering, and for that I wonder what the film would have looked like without studio interference. It was originally slated for release this past March, but got delayed, and it had been originally rated R. Another fact that will join the pantheon's of horror What If's, what if Wes Craven had directed as had originally been slated?

Bottomline. I liked this film, flaws and all. Kristen Bell is fine emotional anchor, and there is some genuine creepiness. The way the story expands from the localized phenomenon to the coming of a new world order is interesting. It is a thematically interesting movie that doesn't fully payoff on what it wants to say, but is frightening in implication. Now I have to dig out my DVD of the original Kairo (translated as Pulse).


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About Draven99

  • Superb review. You hit the nail on the head about the characterizations that float in and out. Less would have tightened up the storyline. I did find the washouts used, with green, blue and flourescent white to be really annoying after awile. I was looking for a thematic reason to using the particular color, but it seemed to get mixed up half-way through, which may have been due to the meddling during post-production.

    I am puzzled that this film didn’t go to R. More flexibility with the R would have allowed more exposition, which might have explained a little bit more and pumped up the atmosphere.

    The bit with the washing machine was pretty goofy. Visually okay, but…why come out of a washing machine?

    There’s quite a Lovecraftianesque feeling to the storyline. My gut feeling is that the J-horror original has more atmosphere. I’ve got to dig it out too.

  • I thought this film was something of a misfire, personally. The telegraphed shock scenes disrupted the atmosphere Sonzero was trying to build, all attempts at explanation were weak and stripping out the thematics of Kurosawa’s original just reveals how stupid the story actually is. It’s better than it could have been, though — the mere idea of Craven helming this causes me to blanche.

  • adam

    This film was dissapointing,
    the storyline relied on the viewer dying to know what the cause/reason for the ghost/virus or even what they were, when the film finished with just a verbal warning towards the unknown dangers of wifi, frequencies ect, i felt very let down.