2006Director: Jim Sonzero
Cast: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Milian
arshall McLuhan opens The Medium Is the Massage with a quote from mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who states, “major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” This statement could act in the most literal sense as the organizing theme of the new cyber-horror film Pulse (a remake of the Japanese hit Kairo) where technology becomes a portal through which the dead traverse and reek havoc upon our existence.
The American version of Pulse lingers far more maladroitly on this notion of isolation through technology, establishing a world in which we conduct communication through various devices with only a limited amount of that filtering over to genuine human contact. We talk on cell phones, text message, or instant message in favor of in the flesh conversation, shutting ourselves off from our fellow man, whether hidden behind headphones or isolated within a room where we endlessly surf the Internet.
Certainly, the idea of media cast as a controlling force in our lives offers the perfect platform for an apocalyptic horror film. Unfortunately, rather than broach this subject with some semblance of subtlety or grace, director Jim Sonzero poises his argument on the level of a brooding high school student lambasting the evils of technology. At one point, a character says to another that he “burned her a bunch of bootleg CDs.” From this statement we ascertain that this particular character will meet an untimely end. Could pirating albums now fill the morally bankrupt position that underage sex formerly occupied in the slasher films of the ‘80s? That’s always been my main qualm with the horror genre. It attempts to assume some sort of moral position, while simultaneously entertaining us with the often-violent demise of its victims. Not that any of the deaths in Pulse are particularly violent. That already suggests a level of creativity and involvement severely lacking in the production team.
To be sure, the film introduces a promising plot (thanks entirely to the original version), affording a creepy enough atmosphere to generate a truly gripping horror film. It begins, more or less, with the suicide of a young man, whom we observed in the opening scene of the film being stalked by a mysterious creatures that looks like a cross between Gollum from Lord of the Rings and an especially pasty Billy Corgan. His girlfriend, Mattie (Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame), witnesses his death and becomes haunted by the idea that she should have recognized the warning signs of his impending suicide. Her guilt takes on a new form when it appears that her dead lover is attempting to communicate with her and her friends from beyond the grave, sending instant messages to them while they’re online that read, in that ominously vague Hollywood manner, “Help Me.” Soon enough, Mattie begins to see these strange pale creatures following her around the city.
Up to this point, the film wanders on the outskirts of success, drifting uncertainly between psychological terror and an old-fashioned monster movie. However, it cannot sustain the terror it sets up as it trades atmospheric unease for a surfeit of exposition and some generally unimpressive acting. Not to mention that the direction lacks both the restraint and skill to make this work, opting for flashy techniques to heighten its tension that instead add nothing but unnecessary distractions from the story. For all its whiny attacks on technology, it’s amusing to note its reliance on special effects to generate its lousy scares. Typically, a film this hollow makes use of expensive sets to disguise its lack of meaning, but even that proves ineffective, illustrating the extent to which this film bankrupts its images.
Amid all this sloppy narration, the film fumbles clumsily with its theme. It intrinsically labels the saturation of technology and the astringent effect it has on social relations as a definable evil, but never pauses to reflect upon the complexities of the situation. Pulse views the world in stark black and white right down to its dismal, dreary cinematography that indicates, much like the fuzzy, mushy logic of its screenplay, this film never had a chance at success. I suppose that would be thoroughly disappointing if I wasn’t already convinced that a message such as this amounts to little more than a whole lot of white noise.
Pulse is playing in theatres across the country.