I'd like to start off this review by talking about the good news concerning Pulse. That good news is we finally have a remake of a Japanese horror film that does not feature a ghostly woman with long black hair covering her face. Kudos to the filmmakers for that. Now that I have that out of the way, I can finally start giving this movie the critical thrashing it so rightfully deserves. If anyone wants a textbook example of everything that is wrong with modern day horror, one need look no further than Pulse. From the inept and ugly direction of relative newcomer Jim Sonzero, to the confusing and often incoherent screenplay co-written by horror master Wes Craven, this movie earns its place right along side the long list of awful "technology gone bad" horror films that include such "classics" as The Lawnmower Man and Ghost in the Machine.
Our heroine, Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell from TV's Veronica Mars), suffers an emotional blow when her isolated boyfriend Josh (Jonathan Tucker) hangs himself. Days later, Mattie and her small group of college friends start receiving eerie Instant Messages from Josh on their computers. Shortly afterward, computers and cell phones all over the world are infected by a bizarre virus that seems to be hooked up to a web cam that displays people killing themselves in various ways. As the virus spreads, people begin either disappearing off the face of the earth or losing their will to live. When all of her remaining friends succumb to this mysterious Internet curse, Mattie is forced to team up with a computer geek named Dexter (Ian Somerhelder, who looks more like an actor from a teen soap opera than any computer geek I've ever known in my lifetime), and try to discover the truth behind these strange disappearances, and the bizarre ghost-like apparitions that are suddenly starting to haunt Mattie everywhere she goes.
Pulse is a movie filled with workable ideas, but does not seem to want to clue us in on just what exactly is going on. From what I can gather, some guys in a computer lab were trying to make a new program and accidentally wound up discovering a way to connect with the afterlife through their machines. (Don't you hate when that happens?...) The ghosts are now spreading out into the world of the living through electronic devices, and are trying to suck the will to live out of every human being. Not only can the ghosts suck out our will to live, but they can also pull us into walls, and turn us into clouds of ash at random for reasons the movie decides to keep to itself. It seems the only way people can be safe from this ghostly menace is to isolate yourself from all technology. I'm seriously surprised nobody in this movie even once suggests that they pack their bags and move to an Amish community. I mean, sure, it'd take a while to get used to churning your own butter, but I'd take that over having my will to live getting sucked out of me by a ghost. Oh wait, that would make sense, and this movie makes none whatsoever. I'm sorry, I forgot about that little detail. Oh, and don't forget the only way to fend off the ghosts, which is to cover your doors and windows with red utility tape. Why is this able to hold back the evil spirits? Heck, I don't think even the filmmakers know. Would putting scotch tape over your doors have the same effect?
A lot of the reason why this movie makes little sense is that it seems to be overly edited. This film has been sitting on the shelf at Dimension Films for almost a year now, and has been pushed back through many release dates. The film was originally given an R-rating, only to be edited down to a more "teen friendly" PG-13. Yes, that's right, they tried to take a movie where mass suicides play a big role in the story, and make it okay for preteens. There's really something wrong with that logic. Because of this "brilliant" decision by the people at Dimension, the movie feels like it's been edited with a chainsaw. There is no coherency as the movie jumps from scene to scene, plot points and characters are introduced then dropped at random, and some scenes seem to be cut completely off before they could reach their climax. We never do learn why the departed Josh is sending his friends Instant Messages on their computer, nor is it ever brought up or seen again after it initially happens. The movie is too busy throwing numerous jump scares that we can see coming from a mile away at us, or expecting us to be scared of gray half-naked people (the ghosts) who keep on popping up out of just about everything from washing machines to the walls. The movie is not the least bit scary or thrilling, although there is one striking image late in the film where Mattie and Dexter see a flaming plane falling out of the sky as the technology-heavy world falls into chaos. However, this image is lifted directly out of the original Japanese film, so it doesn't count.
The movie is really ugly to look at, too. Sonzero seems to like to shoot just about every scene in dark grays, blues, and dull washed out colors that I guess are supposed to make everything look spookier and eerier, but only really makes everything look dirty and unpleasant. The sky is a constant ominous overcast gray in just about every scene, each sequence seems to be lit by the lowest wattage bulbs available, and everyone seems so gloomy and depressed even before they start to get the will to live sucked out of them. The cast is made entirely out of actors who were on hiatus from their youth prime time dramas on the WB network, or had a couple days to kill before their next magazine photo shoot. The characters are so thinly developed, they can't even breathe the slightest amount of life out of them. Pulse is simply depressing, and not for the reasons the filmmakers intended. It's depressing to think that uninspired junk like this can get a full theatrical release, let alone get greenlighted in the first place. It's depressing to think that good money was sunk into this film. Most of all, it is depressing that anyone involved with this project thought they were involved with something worthwhile while they were shooting this. Either something got lost somewhere along the way from script to screen, or everyone who sets foot in this movie needs to have a good long talk with their agent.
With the still flawed, yet lightyears better, The Descent playing, there's simply no reason for you to waste your money on Pulse. This apocalyptic supernatural trash is a cinematic dead zone where not one single ounce of entertainment or enjoyment can escape. Much like the ghosts in this movie, it sucks out your will to sit through any other horror movie ever again after seeing it. I was not a huge fan of the Japanese original, but compared to this, it seems like a horror classic. If Pulse doesn't wind up on my "Worst of the Year" list, it's only because either something worse comes along, or I decided that I hated the equally lame An American Haunting even more. Avoid at all costs.