If there’s anything worse than an American take on a Japanese horror hit, it’s a brain-dead American take on Japanese horror hit. “Pulse” is another reason why nobody likes horror films anymore.
When her estranged boyfriend glumly commits suicide in front of her, Mattie (Kristin Bell, TV’s “Veronica Mars”) is at a loss when she finds he’s trying to contact her through her computer and cell phone after his death. As Mattie tracks the problem to a series of strange internet sites, her friends (a virtual Benetton ad in Christina Milian, Samm Levine, and Rick Gonzalez) start succumbing to the same ghostly plague, intent on killing everything in its path. Teaming up with a hacker (Ian Somerhalder), Mattie tries to stop the terror, only to find it may be bigger than she can comprehend.
It’s far too easy to ridicule “Pulse” for being the latest in a never ending carousel of Asian horror remakes. Yes, the picture has the same familiar scent and taste as “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” yet “Pulse” has the cruel distinction of being the harebrained production that took a healthy swig of goofball juice and actually tries to pretend that everything it dramatizes makes sense in the end. Now that’s ballsy.
The first mistake made in “Pulse” was asking Wes Craven to take a crack at the screenplay (with Ray Wright). Having long ago lost his horror mojo, Craven is the last guy to ask to write a film where the internet is the bad guy. That’s right, that delightful place where goods are purchased with ease and pornography is readily available is supposed to be evil incarnate here; a portal for some type of creature to sneak in to our tennis court called life and rocket a volley down our throat. In my book, “Fear Dot Com” was pretty much the final word on the nonexistent potential for online horror, but hey, “The Ring” made $100 mil+ in the US, so I can’t blame Hollywood for trying to remake anything Japanese they could get their greasy hands on.
It would’ve helped to have someone of artistic weight directing “Pulse” who had a capacity to manage the puzzle pieces of the plot with a splash of clarity. Riddled with obtuse plotting and a noticeable lack of continuity, “Pulse” steams forward with such unabashed inanity, you really have to give your brain a rest to even make it to the end. This film is making up its rules up it goes, using bizarrely conceived (and PG-13 neutered) fright set-pieces to cover up the fact that the story is a mess and not a lick of effort was put into caring for any of the characters.
Featuring bone-white ghost people (check), a cast of no discernable talent (yep, seen that before), and a contrived nihilistic tone the slumbers into baffling apocalyptic proportions, there’s nothing to “Pulse” that feels urgent. It wears its box office aspirations on its sleeve, leaving creativity to fend for itself while it dishes up the same tired scare routines for teenagers with nothing better to do on a Saturday night.
What “Pulse” is trying to say about the dangers of a fully wired community is made crystal clear in the finale. However, this message makes much more sense when placed on more claustrophobic Japanese grounds. Transplanting the story to America relieves the film of its primal horror, along with the feeling of isolation and constipated communication that’s built into the premise, but forgotten by the filmmakers. Of course, this is the same movie that, after establishing doomsday is making a stop in their town, features a scene where Milian’s character takes time to do her laundry. Because if the end is near, you’ll want to feel clean for the demons that are spilling out of hard drives to nibble on your soul.Rating: F