Pulse (2006) / Horror-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for terror, disturbing images, language, sensuality, and thematic material (the original  R-rated cut is released on home video)
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Milian, Rick Gonzalez, Jonathan Tucker, Samm Levine, Ron Rifkin, Brad Dourif
Director: Jim Sonzero
Screenplay: Ray Wright, Wes Craven (based on the 2001 film, Kairo, by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Review published November 25, 2006

I would call this a major disappointment to anyone who has seen the Japanese original, Kairo, but I'd venture to guess that it's a disappointment of greater measure to those who haven't.  Having seen Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film, drawing comparisons between the Japanese and the Hollywood treatments did provide a level of entertainment beyond the customary viewing, as seeing just how a smart and original concept could get ripped apart and stuffed into completely formulaic, commercial horror techniques is far more horrific than any of the jump-scares you'll witness throughout.  Those who aren't able to draw such comparisons will feel the full brunt of the boredom-inducing stupidity that the American version of Pulse delivers without mercy.

It's not easy to lay out a plot summary for a film this confusing, but apparently it has something to do with evil forces that are being brought about from wireless technologies like PDAs, cell phones and Wi-Fi signals.  The spirits of this other dimension can exist and come to physical form through these signals that pass through nearly everything, taking the souls of the living along with them.  It's a global phenomenon, but the film centers around one particular group of friends who are getting picked off one by one by the mysterious forces, leaving the remainder desperate to find some way to stop the ghosts from destroying all of humanity.

The original 2001 film wasn't particularly scary either, but it did succeed in delivering some interesting social commentary on the nature of electronic means of communication, and how it is separating us from actual human contact, leaving those who succumb to it as empty shells who sit in lonely rooms with nothing much to live for.  Of course, this sort of thing isn't going to resonate with the American horror-loving crowds, primarily because the audience for horror here doesn't much care for having to think much during their fright-fests, content to completely immerse themselves in nonsensical stories that are designed to show ample amounts of creepy images and moments of jump-out-at-you shock.  The anti-electronics message would also meet with skepticism by today's audiences, as most of the groups of younger viewers that flock to a film like Pulse are already completely enrapt in this world of digital communications, probably texting messages to their friends before, after, and during the film itself. 

Without the philosophical message, what's left of Pulse is much like the humans in the movie after their essence is extracted -- it's a lifeless shell of its former self that loses coherence and reason as time goes on before finally disintegrating into nothingness.  Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left) receives a co-screenwriting credit, but how much of his input remains is in serious doubt, as the entire production feels as though it has gone into the the "remove all philosophy" nature that is the pre-production process when having to construct a film for a maximum potential target audience.  The United States is the country that removed the word "philosopher" from the title of the first Harry Potter film after all -- perhaps there's no place in our popular entertainment for thinking anymore, according to the powers-that-be making the marketing decisions at the major studios.

The irony of Pulse is that, by removing the "confusing" social commentary, they have made what's left infinitely more perplexing, with very little explanation as to what is going on during many scenes, or what is motivating anyone, ghosts and humans alike, into doing whatever it is they seem very compelled to do.  The only things we can admire are completely sensory, as the imagery and sound effects take over almost completely, leaving us with little choice but to sit in our seats mindlessly, vacantly searching for some story element to finally take hold of all this sound and fury to make it something of substance.  It never does.  While horror filmmakers desperately try to get heart rates up, our brain scans would register a complete flatline.

After watching a film like Pulse, I feel a bit insulted that movie executives think so little about the intelligence of the American movie-going public that the vast majority of the attempts at popular entertainment are completely stripped of anything remotely resembling a thought-provoking element, eschewing those in favor of noise, special effects and music stimuli to try to induce a subconscious reaction in the audience.  Rather than make a film about the dangers of cell phones and PDAs, someone in this country need to make a film about the dumbing down of popular entertainment to the point where films are little more than hypnotic mood pieces with no discernible story structure, character depth, or overriding themes to relate to.  Yet, people still flock to films like Pulse in droves, leading me to think that perhaps the movie executives know more about the intelligence of the American public than I'm willing to believe.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo