Two things interested me about this film. I kind of knew what I was getting into even before watching it though. First it was a remake of "Kairo", which I love. And that it starred Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell, who I also love.
These American remakes of Asian horror can almost be classified as a subgenre, now that films such as Pulse have come full circle. Following the horror tropes left behind by the Poltergeist franchise but basing its fundamental premise on Kiyoshi Kurosawas exemplary 2001 cult hit "Kairo", it merges the prevalence of technology in our daily lives with the netherworlds relentless agenda of world dominationor something to that effect. Theres something really interesting about the inclusion of the afterlife in our fulsome technological pursuits, something quite profound even. But where Kairo tried to stymie a tidied explanation and aimed at a persuasive sense of lament and melancholy in a steadily paced atmosphere of dread and cultural isolation, Pulse loses that very provocative sentiment and goes straight for the kill.
Horror master Wes Craven pens this update, situating students in a struggle to survive a sinister force using the advancement in cybernetics against them. Even White Noise and Fear Dot Com, in all their crapular glory had interesting premises behind them. Regrettably, Pulse joins the ranks of films with potentially creepy ideas that dont come into fruition. And for a film so entrenched in technological references, there seems to be plenty of illogical setups when using these equipments. Early shots include a deluge of students using mobile devices, text messaging each other while using their laptops, all to make a point - we use too much technology. All while the film reaches to the extremes in listing problems associated with online dependence. Wow. A virus attack sends more shivers down my spine than Pulse ever could.
It provokes technophobia when the film goes onboard a Luddite-esque, Y2K scare bandwagon by dramatically expositing the social (and physical) terrors of online and mobile communication. While Kairo slowly sucked the viewer in, and silently critiqued against technologys gradual predominance in our cultural attitudes, Pulse shouts it from the rafters while unimaginatively explicating its dangers even till the end. It voices out its concerns and caveats over online piracy, inter-personal relationships and the increasing accessibility of choosing instant messaging over face-to-face communication.
The director Jim Sonzero, a relative greenhorn to feature films, lacks the elegance in manipulation and the storytelling varnish of accomplished scare maestros. However, theres plenty of great art direction within his appealing cinematography that plays with shadows and lifeless hues, but unfortunately all within his painfully erratic edits between locales and characters.
Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) is caught between the apocalyptic envisioning of the undeads invasion through the portals created by our wireless frequencies. Aided by Dexter McCarthy (Ian Somerhalder), they investigate the mystery in between short and unfulfilling experiences with malevolent screensavers and evil webcams. Bells effortless ease into terror and hysterics is spurred on by her incredible presence on screen. Although a step-down from her brilliant titular role in televisions Veronica Mars, it shows a fantastic ability to carry a less than stellar film on the back of her performance. She makes the trite dialogue seem smart and relevant, and more often than not brings a certain fascination to her character that the film does not really deserve.
Even being a mere whisper of the terror that Kurosawa crafted with Kairo, this Hollywood teenage schlock-horror product manages to negate its deep-seated message of technology being an isolating presence. It becomes an extremely literal expletive that is derived from the originals abstract and disarmingly subjective theme. A real shame considering that we are already getting a dumb-downed version in this studio-directed PG film directed at weekend mallrats. Along with the videogaming-culture inspired Stay Alive opening this month, this could very well seem like a double feature in techno-horror cautionary tales. My recommendation would be to check out the DVDs when released, as cuts will be reinstated to the respective films.