Pulse, the latest unnecessary American remake of a Japanese horror film, treads familiar horror/sci-fi ground: It’s yet another cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Only this time, it’s not about the travesty of a man playing god, as in Frankenstein and its countless progeny, or the horrors of nuclear radiation, as in Godzilla, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and the dozens of other ’50s sci-fi creepshows. This time the evil comes from … email?
Yes, email — that and cell phones (as in the recent Stephen King novel, unread by me) and webcams and instant messaging and social networking websites: all the modern conveniences that make it easier for us to superficially connect with one another but are supposedly making us only more isolated and unable to form meaningful relationships. You don’t have to buy into that dubious thesis, though, to enjoy the movie; it’s basically a good old-fashioned ghost story, with spooky atmosphere and sudden jump-scares and a hot blonde heroine who inexplicably survives every close call, while her friends are picked off one by one. It helps that the hot blonde is Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) who can basically do anything (she even sings — see “Reefer Madness”) and remain effortlessly adorable and charming. She doesn’t have Veronica’s sharp dialogue to work with here — the script is by horrormeister Wes Craven, no Rob Thomas he, adapting Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s screenplay for the Japanese original — but she does the best she can with what she’s given, even delivering clunkers like “Don’t you get it? There’s no system to shut down — they are the system!” with something resembling conviction. The supporting cast — consisting of Ian Somerhalder (“Lost”), Christina Milian (Be Cool), Rick Gonzalez (Roll Bounce), Jonathan Tucker (Hostage), and Samm Levine (“Freaks and Geeks”) — is also perfectly acceptable, alternately screaming in terror or looking like death warmed over as appropriate.
Pulse starts off like the typical J-Horror adaptation, with a beautiful lead actress; dank, oppressive atmosphere; and the presence of the pasty, unquiet dead — there’s even a laundry-room scene, as in Dark Water, and a creepy visitor in the bathtub, as in The Grudge and The Ring Two — but it takes a turn none of those films take (and here comes a vague spoiler), into a global apocalypse not unlike that of Romero’s Dead series. Now this is a matter of personal taste, but I’ve always felt that horror films were most effective when they kept the dangers small and personal — it’s much easier to convince me that I’m being threatened by a knife-wielding maniac than that the entire planet has been taken over by some malevolent force. It takes a lot of evidence, gradually introduced, to persuade me that the whole world has been overcome, and Pulse just doesn’t do that. It begins with its focus on one group of friends on one college campus, then maintains that focus — with only a brief glimpse into the wider world, through TV news broadcasts — for the first two-thirds of the movie, so that, when it finally springs the worldwide devastation on us, it’s underprepared.
Of course, I might have been more successful at suspending my disbelief had I not seen the movie at a Friday-night showing in downtown Boston, surrounding by yelling and giggling teenagers who served as a constant reminder of the real world outside the film. There was even a fat guy two seats over who insisted on delivering a running commentary — somewhat sotto voce but not nearly enough — throughout the entire film. This is the true horror of modern life, if you ask me — not the dehumanization of technology, but the sad fact that no one knows how to behave in a friggin’ movie theater anymore.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Pulse / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | August 12, 2006 | Comments ()