Pulse (2006)
By: Craig Villinger on February 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Roadshow (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. English (FHI) Subtitles. 84 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jim Sonzero
Starring: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Milian, Rick Gonzalez, Jonathan Tucker, Samm Levine, Jeremy Guskin
Screenplay: Wes Craven, Ray Wright
Music: Elia Cmiral
Tagline: There are some frequencies we were never meant to find.
Country: USA
Unplug your modem. Bin that tumor producing mobile phone! Sure, the internet and cellular technology have made our lives much easier, but the devices that allow us to access free pornography and talk to our friends while operating moving vehicles might also be a portal through which otherworldly invaders can enter our dimension and bring forth Armageddon!

Collegiate life for spunky Mattie Webber (Kristin Bell) takes a turn for the bleak when her computer hacker boyfriend hangs himself with an Ethernet cable after encountering some sort of ghostly entity in the campus library. Shortly after his demise however the deceased BF begins sending Mattie and her friends messages via the internet, prompting her to dig around for answers. Soon she is haunted by strange visions, and her friends – not to mention random strangers – begin to develop inky skin infections which eventually lead to bad things like depression, paranoia, and the desire to throw one's self off of high rise water towers, and after hooking up with computer expert Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) the pair discovers that the cause of this eccentricity seems to be a computer virus which has unwittingly been released, allowing malevolent forces to sneak into our world using the technological devices that have become part of our daily lives.

While Pulse is indeed another bloody remake, Hollywood has a decent track record when it comes to reworking Asian fright flicks. The Ring was much better than the relatively dull Ringu, and even The Grudge – which was essentially a dumbed-down version of the scare-iffic Ju-on: The Grudge – was a satisfyingly spooky experience, so I sat down to watch this Americanization of 2001's Kairo (aka Pulse) with an open mind, and for a while it looked like the film might actually deliver the goods.

For starters, the cinematography and production design are top notch. The entire film has that Se7en-ish 'bleak as hell' look to it, with minimal lighting and grotty sets putting the viewer in a state of unease. Performances from all concerned are good as well, and the special effects are occasionally dazzling, but apart from some unsettling suicide imagery the film is rarely tense or scary. Several soul sucking ghostly attack scenes, complete with an overblown musical score, are monotonous, and the good things in life such as gore, nudity, and profanity are all non-existent. It's safe to say this generic spook flick was made to cater to the widest possible audience, and although the version released on Australian DVD is the same as the US 'Unrated' cut which restores about a minute of footage omitted from the films' US theatrical release, it is still fairly tame and was only given an M rating by the OFLC.

Interestingly, the film was originally due to go before the cameras in 2003 with horror master Wes Craven at the helm, but Dimension canned the project as they feared it was too similar to The Ring. A few years later however, with Japanese remakes scoring big at the box office, the Weinsteins had a change of heart and resurrected the project, but by this time Craven had moved on (although he retains a co-screenwriter credit) and the unknown Jim Sonzero ended up scoring the gig.

Overall, Pulse does have a few good moments and might surprise you on more than one occasion, but as is the case with many remakes, if you've seen the original there's really no need to see this inferior, dumbed-down Americanized retread. It's not a bad film by any means, and at a brisk 84 minutes it is over long before it's outlived its welcome, but the original is much better and those who are intrigued by the premise would do well to check it out before (or instead of) seeing this remake.

Perhaps if Craven has stuck with the project the results would be different…
Pulse is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. The image is quite sharp, and features solid black levels which is of particular importance in a transfer like this as virtually the entire film is dimly lit.

Colours are drab, with some scenes painted with such a dull pallet that you could almost think you were watching a black and white feature, but don't adjust your set folks as this was an aesthetic choice by the filmmakers. Be it night or day, indoor or outdoor, Mark Plummer's gloomy photography is re-produced wonderfully here.

Grain is occasionally noticeable during some of the darker moments, but apart from this minor quibble the visual presentation is superb.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 options are provided. Naturally I listened to the 5.1 track, and this is definitely one to crank up the volume for. Dialogue comes through the centre speaker with outstanding clarity, while the rear speakers are used aggressively when the soul sucking mayhem ensues.
Extra Features
Director Jim Sonzero and special effects make-up designer Gary Tunnicliffe provide the first of two audio commentaries, and while their talk through is dry and at times un-enthusiastic it contains the expected amount of technical info, and Sonzero speaks about the cuts requires to obtain the PG-13 rating for the films theatrical release with barely disguised distain. A second, and more lively commentary track, features Producers Mike Leahy and Joel Soisson, Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin O'Neill, Line Producer Ron Vecchiarelli, Editor Kirk Morri, and Actor Samm Levine.

Pulse: Creating the Fear is an unexceptional seven minute Electronic Press Kit which features on-set interviews with cast and crew members including Kristen Bell, Jim Sonzero, and Samm Levine, all of whom had a great time working on the film and can't say enough positive things about the director. How sweet.

The Visual Effects of Pulse is a slightly more engaging look at the work which went into creating the films many computer-generated effects, and clocks in at six minutes. Expect lots of green screen footage and interviews with people sitting at computers.

Pulse and the Paranormal (six minutes) looks at Instrumental Transcommunication, which is the process of communicating with spirits through electronic devices. Interviews with paranormal investigators and paranormal "experts" as well as supposedly genuine 'ghostly' screen captures and voice messages suggest the events depicted in Pulse might not be as far fetched as some would think.

Our selection concludes with Pulse's theatrical trailer, and seven deleted and alternate scenes which show us what ended up on the cutting room floor. A couple of these scenes could have been left in as they add some useful info to the jumbled Pulse puzzle, but mostly the deleted footage features nothing more than talking heads and slight additions to scenes that were already in the film.
The Verdict
Pulse is watchable, but that's as far as my praise can go. If you're a fan of audience friendly horror jaunts with high production values, a spunky cast, and CGI enhancements you'll get your money's worth here, but if you want eye gouging Fulci style horror or Deodato-esque pole skewering shenanigans, you won't find much entertainment hidden inside this efficiently produced mainstream fright flick.

Even though the film received a lukewarm box office reception, not one but two direct-to-video sequels are currently in the pipeline, and while I'm not the worlds biggest Pulse fan I'd actually be interested in the sequels if they continue on with the story instead of just re-hashing the events of the original with a different batch of pretty teenagers, as the finale did actually leave us with an interesting set-up for a continuation of the tale.
Movie Score
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