Review: ‘Pulse’

No one seems to be interested that people all over the world are vanishing. Could it be because they know how dull the film is, too?

Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) is a collage student like any other; she’s plugged into her cell phone, her laptop, and her portable music player. When her boyfriend Josh (Jonathan Tucker) starts looking like Neo before he took the Blue Pill, she confronts his sudden lack of interest in anything only to watch him kill himself. A slacker named Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) seems to have the only clue what Josh may have stumbled into that sucked his will to live, but as people all over the world start to vanish into thin air, the scariest part is that no one else seems to care.

The look of Pulse is like a post-apocalyptic world where silent, invisible nuclear warheads destroyed the people but left everything else. Everything is bleak and cold, as if the sun itself were stricken from the script. It’s all a metaphor for the isolation of technology, right down to the “red tape” that inexplicably can keep the technological monsters of science at bay. And after you die and come back as one of soul-sucking techno-dead, your ghost-like appearance must look like bad video reception so that your victims can notice it and have time to run.

The good news is that the production designer had a good idea for the look of the film: rip off The Ring. The bad news is that everything else that could have worked did not, from the script all the way to the casting. Glimmers of hope for what the film could have been are everywhere, like the sudden appearance of Brad Dourif spewing end-of-the-world gibberish, or a small family unit who realizes their world is ending, or a lone student who tacks a badly-copied set of rules on how to protect yourself onto a bulletin board. It’s as if the idea that this could be happening worldwide was an afterthought to the producers who then decided to go back and shoot enough bits to play up the gaping plot holes.

As a result, the characters don’t seem to know what to do with themselves except to wait around and see what happens to them next. Is the film about isolation and dying alone, running from the nameless monsters, or becoming one with the collective? The “bad event” seems to be a good thing for our heroes since it’s obviously driving Mattie and Dexter into one another’s arms. We don’t get to see much “alone” time for all the other characters lined up to die mysteriously; in fact, the only rule to “the monsters” seems to be that you have to be alone for them to “get you” (and even that rule doesn’t stick).

What would have been nice is a contrasting point of view. Where is the poor kid/Luddite who either can’t afford technology or just doesn’t use it? No cell, takes notes with a pen, and still keeps up with the class (and provides an excuse for a computer room on a campus where everyone seems to have their laptop anyway). Where the frat boys to party like it’s the end of the world? Couldn’t the campus pep squad organize a “we wanna live” party for what’s left of the school body? With classes down to three students out of sixty, why weren’t classes simply cancelled?

Toward the end comes a wannabe Hitchcock moment, the kind of last-ditch hopeful bit that these films always play up that never works out. Again, the script shows the most basic ignorance for the technology at work, including where the power comes from and the enemies’ complete lack of any corporeal ability to fix it once it breaks down or is destroyed. Instead, we’re left with an ending that feels bleak and world-ending but is mostly lazy and under thought. And since when doesn’t the AM band constitute a frequency, or is it just too slow and primitive for the beasties to use?

Neat idea; horrible execution. No wonder the studio couldn’t figure out where to unload this turkey.

(a one skull recommendation out of four)

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