Pulse (2006)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/13/06 15:43:30

"Not Quite As Terrifying As Trying To Cancel AOL"
1 stars (Sucks)

You know, back in my day, when sallow-faced demons decided to break free from their shadowy netherworld in order to wreak havoc on our lives and possibly bring on the apocalypse, they would do so by possessing houses or 12-year-old girls or, in a pinch, the nearest available 1958 Plymouth Fury and we were happy with that, consarn it. Apparently, that just isn’t good enough for the kids today with the Playstations and the wireless pants and the like. Nowadays, if the souls of the damned want to break through to our mortal coil while still scoring an adequate opening weekend take at the box-office, they have to come through haunted videotapes or computer games or virtually every single one of the numerous electronic communication gadgets that people have begun to increasingly depend on in order to go about their daily lives. Such a film is the idiotic new horror entry “Pulse,” perhaps the first such work in which the heroes valiantly battling the forces of darkness don’t need a young priest and an old priest–they need a decent spam blocker.

Based on the popular Japanese techno-horror film from cult filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the film opens as dopey college student Josh is stalked through the stacks of the poorly-lit school library and attacked by some mysterious force in a sequence that lacks the raw terror of the similar opening in “Ghostbusters.” A few days later, after noticing that Josh hasn’t been seen around the poorly-lit campus or returned any phone calls, girlfriend Mattie (Kristen Bell) shows up at his poorly-lit apartment just in time to see him hang himself. A few days after that, she and her friends (Christina Milan, Samm Levine and Rick Gonzalez) begin to receive mysterious e-mail messages purportedly sent by Josh from his computer. When they investigate, it turns out that the computer is not even hooked up to anything–it is sitting in the trunk of the hunky hacker (Ian Somerhalder) who bought it from Josh’s landlady. It turns out that demons from another world have somehow found their way onto the information superhighway–thanks to big idiot Josh–and are using computers, cell phones, Blackberrys and the like in order to destroy us all and take over the world, possibly because they are attracted to the poorly-lit surroundings. (Seriously, the cave system in “The Descent” is like the Christmas tree in Daley Plaza by comparison.)

There is something creepily intriguing about the notion of life as we know it being threatened by the very technology that we have come to depend on to live our lives and being so wrapped up in that very same technology–which has ironically brought the world closer together as a whole while isolating individuals more so than ever–that we don’t even notice that the apocalypse is at hand. This may be what inspired Wes Craven, who previously explored man’s uneasy relationship with technology in his seriously underrated “Shocker,” to want to do a remake of the film in the first place. Alas, we’ll never know what Craven would have done with it because his version had its plug pulled at the last minute--supposedly because the folks at Miramax felt it was too similar to “The Ring”–and was instead placed in the hands of newcomer Jim Sonzero, who attacks the material in the most singularly blah manner possible. This is a film in which the world is slowly going mad and coming to an end–people are disappearing left and right and those that remain are transforming into soulless hulks–and yet he never figures out a way of translating that encroaching sense of dread except shooting every scene with a visual style that makes it seems as if a storm front has crept in right in front of the projector. The only moment that comes close to delivering that sense of dread comes from a diner sequence in which a weirdo begins pontificating about the end of the world as we know it and this is only because the guy is played by the reliably looney Brad Dourif, the kind of guy who could make the phrase “Man, that is some tasty cobbler” sound like an announcement of end times.

Although Craven still has a credit on the screenplay (no doubt in order to attract otherwise wary genre buffs), the film underwent years of rewrites, revisions and last-minute reshoots and the resulting confusion can be felt throughout in the story’s utter lack of internal logic. It is understood at a certain point that the demons are getting to people through their computers and phones and such–how, then, to explain the scene in which one of them spooks Kristen Bell in the bathtub (and in case you were wondering, she showed more skin in her recent “Maxim” layout than she does here) another attacks Christina Milan by popping out of a clothes dryer? (For that matter, who chooses the eve of the apocalypse as the perfect time run a few things through the wash anyway?) We are also told that red gaffer’s tape applied to all doors and windows somehow has the power to keep the demons at bay but we are never told exactly how that works or why–instead, we are left with the nagging suspicion that the scenes in those rooms are even more poorly lit than usual.

Then there are the usual idiocies that tend to crop up in crappy horror film, such as the inescapable fact that all of the main characters are morons. Let’s say that you are sitting at your computer and a strange message from an unknown sender pops up on your screen asking “Do You Want To See A Ghost?” and offering a mysterious link–would you actually be dumb enough to click on to the thing? (Hell, I get wary when people I know quite well send me e-mails with attached paparazzi photos of Asia Argento at the beach.) Oh yeah, there is also the ridiculous finale that offers up a near-total Armageddon as a climax and then offers a guardedly optimistic epilogue (one straight out of “Terminator”) that seems to have been tagged on so that the 14-year-olds in the audience won’t be totally bummed during the end credits.

Of all the recent string of dreadful American remakes of Asian horror films, which will continue with the likes of “The Grudge 2" and the Jessica Albaized version of “The Eye,” “Pulse” may be the worst of the bunch simply because the original version was one of the few unquestioned highpoints of the J-horror cycle. This rendition, on the other hand, is as dreary and lifeless as the monsters it contains not even an actress as talented as Bell can hope to salvage things. Towards the end of the film, we learn that the best way to avoid being overtaken by the monsters is to stay within a technology dead zone that has zero electricity and where nothing seems to work. Therefore, in the case of an demonic apocalypse of this type, your best bets for survival are to take shelter in Kalispel, Montana, my brother’s old office and any theater unlucky enough to be showing “Pulse.”

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.