Oct 112006
three reels

Mattie (Kristen Bell) finds her boyfriend, Josh (Jonathan Tucker), hanging from a telephone cable.  Soon other friends and strangers are committing suicide or disappearing and ghostly images are popping up on the internet.  Teaming up with Dexter (Ian Somerhalder), who purchased Josh’s computer, Mattie tries to discover what is happening and if the code that Josh was working on can stop it.

The opaque Japanese apocalyptic ghost story was hardly an obvious choice for an Occidental remake.  2001’s Pulse (also known as Kairo) has all the clarity of an unfinished David Lynch film, but with Japanese sensibilities.  Perhaps someone thought it would be an exciting challenge to attempt to make an accessible version for American teens.

The filmmakers started well.  Kristen Bell (TV’s Veronica Mars) was ready for a starring film role.  She’s more compelling than anyone in the original.  Making some sense of the plot and tying up the loose ends left frayed in Pulse ’01 was also a good idea.  So much of that film lacked focus because there was no reason for things to be taking place.  Here, there are rules and we know them.  Sure, they violate science, logic, and the nature of thought, but at least everything fits together.  The ghosts are appearing now for a specific (and sci-fi reason).  Their actions cause people to die, and they have a mode of operation.  Even minor items, like the red tape so prevalent in the original, are explained.  Perhaps the biggest change is that the characters do something.  Mattie and Dexter are striving to find a way to stop the ghosts and save the world, instead of simply dwelling on the isolated nature of existence.

Pulse ’06 is also more of a horror movie with significantly more excitement.  Jump scares and chases are common, along with some actual tension.  Mattie does play detective, but as the film progresses, she spends most of her time trying to survive.

With all these intelligently chosen changes, this should be a great picture.  After all, I said Kairo “was straining to be great,” so fixing the problems should do the trick.  But it doesn’t.  Pulse may be slightly more fun, but it comes off as trivial.  There’s lip service paid to the alienation caused by modern technology, with multiple shots of people poking at their laptops and cell phones, but there’s no meat.  Outside of learning that it’s smarter to ask a girl to dance than to text her the same question, there’s not much to think about.  It’s lightweight, action, teen horror and the filmmakers weren’t aiming any higher than that.  Music video director Jim Sonzero is out of his league with the material (well, not once its all been brought down to that simpler, teen horror level; then he’s in the right place).  His style is a mixture of those music videos and any cliché he could swipe from other simplistic, low-budget horror flicks.  The flashback pastiche of Mattie and Josh’s relationship is painful and many other moments that should be intense or moving end up flat.

We end up with is a fun little horror pic.  It’s empty entertainment, but there’s nothing wrong with that.