Pulse (2006)

Pulse, the remake of the Japanese film Kairo (or Pulse), is the latest Asian horror film to get the American remake treatment. Unlike its predecessors, The Ring and The Grudge, some critics have felt the Japanese version of Pulse, despite possessing an interesting concept, held some room for improvement and stood the chance of having a better American version if the filmmakers just improved upon the flaws of the original. Sadly, director Jim Sonzero, and writer Wes Craven miss the mark on those flaws, missing even most of the ideas that made the original movie interesting.

Unlike the two-threaded story of the original, this story follows Mattie (Kristin Bell), a psych major whose boyfriend Josh mysteriously commits suicide. Despite his status among the deceased, Mattie and her friends begin receiving online messages from Josh pleading for help. Checking out his computer to make sure it isn’t still acting on autopilot reveals that Josh had pirated some truly profound stuff. It turns out scientists, tapping into unknown frequencies, had established a connection with the spirits of the dead, who realized they could use that same connection to take their revenge upon the living for… well, living. Mattie and her Scooby friends find themselves pursued by the unliving forces that plagued Josh, along with Dexter (Ian Somerhalder), another hacker type who unknowingly ended up with Josh’s computer when Josh’s former landlord attempted to earn some of her lost rent money.

The last time I reviewed a thriller starring one of the deceased of “Lost” alongside the headliner of another show it was last year’s remake of The Fog (with Maggie Grace and Tom Welling). Like his “Lost” character, Somerhalder fares much better in the supernatural thriller genre than Grace. Both Bell and Somerhalder give forth appropriately creeped out performances, trying their best to make sense of a world where ghosts are making connections through electronic devices. The only other performance in the movie truly worth mentioning is a brief appearance by character actor Brad Dourif as one of the few whacked out people who believes what is going on.

The picture is presented through a Matrix-like green filter, appropriate for a movie that’s trying to show how out of touch we seem to be except for our electronic devices. The result is a surprisingly effective stark look which becomes even more intense as the groups of people shown earlier in the film begin to thin out thanks to a “massive epidemic of suicides.” Add on top of that greenish filter the startling appearance of the ghosts, which pop in and out of the picture in disturbing ways, and you’ve got a movie with a great environment.

So the movie has a decent cast and a great environment. Where could it go wrong? Sadly, most of the movie is Boring with a capital “B”. Aside from the “gotcha” appearances of the ghosts to startle the girls in the audience (or the guys who scream like girls), the story spends far too long establishing that something is going on. The story gets repetitive as it tries to figure out what exactly that something is, with no new information really presented after the first third of the picture until the story finally picks up in the last twenty to thirty minutes. It is possible that I missed new information due to my inability to hear over the teenage girls who moved to gabbing when the movie wasn’t making them scream, but I think that tendency for talk proves what I’m saying: the picture doesn’t hold the audience’s attention.

Instead of being a great movie, Pulse ends up being only a setup for a good picture. This story should have been condensed down to fifteen minutes as a setup for a new kind of zombie film, only with ghosts – an apparitioned Night of the Comet, Dawn of the Dead, or 28 Days Later… if you will. That’s the picture this movie made me want to see. By the end of the film I realized how boring most of what I had seen was, but also how interested the final ten minutes made me in what happens next. Sadly that means there’s a great opportunity to follow this mundane screamer with a rousing sequel. Hopefully Dimension Films will look at that potential and not drop the ball if they decide to go for an inevitable Pulse 2.