Review Date: October 2, 2008
Released by: Dimension
Release date: 12/05/2006
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
As a budding filmmaker myself, I’m convinced that the only way to really break into the horror film scene is to move to Asia and make a horror movie. Even if none of the remakes since The Ring
or The Grudge
have made any money, Hollywood keeps chugging them out, from One Missed Call
didn’t have one last year at the box office, but still Pulse 2
is here and Pulse 3
forthcoming. Before we take a look at the horror of receiving text messages and emails in the re-quel, let’s step back and take a look at the horror movie that, as the back of the box states, is “unlike any horror film you’ve ever seen before or ever will see.” You know, other than Kurosawa’s original film, or the sequel.
Josh (Jonathan Tucker
, The Ruins
) is a 1337 hacker. He infiltrates a top secret ultra-wide wireless project and ends up stumbling upon some pretty scary stuff. You haven’t seen fear until you see a bunch of poorly lit twentysomethings staring into their webcams. In hacking the system, though, Josh inadvertently opened a portal to the dead. Now, through technology, ghosts and spirits from people past can manifest themselves in the everyday world. Through cell phones, emails and even instant messengers, they can travel from the technology right into your soul. Once they get in, you evaporate into a spell of dust.
Josh tries to kill off the code with his own special brand of virus, but before he can give it to co-conspirator Zieglar, he’s paid a visit by one of the deathly tech phantoms. After Josh doesn’t answer his phone for days, his on-again-off-again Mattie (Kristen Bell
) decides to pay him a visit personally. His house is a dump and his personality has changed. He can hardly speak. He apologizes, goes into the back room and hangs himself with a USB cable. Who knew they made them that sturdy?
Josh isn’t the only one. Everyone, it seems, is being paid a visit by these phantoms. First they lose their soul, then, days later, their body. When all her friends start dropping dead, Mattie realizes she has to get to the bottom of this and find that virus! Josh’s old computer was pawned off to a brooding techie, Dexter (Ian Somerhalder
), and he too is starting to see the fallout. The webcam streams are coming into his house…AND THE ETHERNET CABLE IS UNPLUGGED! With Mattie’s guidance, the two of them must band together to stop the phantoms from taking over Ohio. He’s gotta hack, and he’s gotta do it fast.
Pulse takes the timely concept of our over reliance on technology and turns it into a gimmick as forced as Sarah Palin’s vice presidency ticket. Subtly about the subject flies out the window long before an elderly woman starts a tirade about wi-fi. Even if there was a sixty year old who knew about wi-fi, nobody would ever resort to that jargonizing pap. It’s buzzwords abound, as every line about “hacking”, “viruses” or “overclocking” serves only to show the opportunistic naivety of the film’s creators. They don’t want to make a film that taps into the psyche of our tech culture, they merely want to exploit it.
Penned by Wes Craven (who had originally planned on directing), it’s no surprise that the film is so on the nose about its subject. Craven vetoed subtlety forever when he named his dogs in The Hills Have Eyes
Beauty & Beast, and proved that he couldn’t make technology much more than a bad gimmick in Shocker
and, at times, Deadly Friend
. So here’s yet another film that still thinks the term “hackers” isn’t as antiquated as the 1995 Angelina flick. Perhaps under Craven’s direction it would have landed the punches that his heavy handed scripts still usually do, but taken here at face value by commercial director Jim Sonzero, it’s as blunt as rocks. His wi-fi signal iz weak!
For a film like this to be effective, I’d say that instead of making everyone so privy with all the tech buzzwords that surround them, make them oblivious. Most people rely on technology, but really don’t understand it, and that’s the quality that makes it scary. Fear of the unknown. But when waif Kristen Bell is screaming about hacking the system it becomes so displaces from reality it loses all fright. Same too in the oversimplification of the computer infrastructure that they have to “hack”. Apparently, all you do is plug in a memory stick and a virus not only loads, but displays a message saying “The System is Hacked”. Funny, I thought they either crawled in silently or unleashed a bunch of porn and casino pop-ups. Scary would have been this operating system interior so complex and vast that it would be plausible for souls to be contained within. The way it is here though, it’s a pretty flash overlay. A bore.
It’s a shame, because the film had real potential. There are some solid scenes that really play on our post-9/11 fears with horrific images of people jumping from tall buildings, planes crashing into government headquarters, a fear of the city and just a general sense of apocalypse buried behind the structure and order of technology. Granted, these images were prevalent in the original Kairo
, but like Hanake’s remake of Funny Games
, the same images hold a greater weight when remade in an American context. These are only tiny blips though, in a film comfortable to flatline on the same tired tech jargonizing that’s been around since Tron
This movie is blue. Very blue. In an attempt to create a world of technological emptiness, the blue hue is utilized excessively, and effectively, for that look. Once you get past that, this progressive scan, anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer looks very nice. My one complaint is that contrast levels seem to fluctuate from scene to scene, which might be an after effect of all the compositing done throughout the film’s effects sequences. Whatever it is, it significantly reduces the detail in major portions of the film, and can at times be distracting. Otherwise, this is a blemish free and deeply saturated transfer that you’d expect from a film this young.
It’s in Dolby Digital 5.1, and while the sound design itself is impressive, with audible apparitions always seeming to exist in the soundscape, the mix doesn’t entirely push them around the way it should. Effects are more of the left to right variety, with only bits of ambience filling out the back channels. There’s plenty there to get under your skin, I just kept wishing for more, though.
The Weinsteins have been very kind to Pulse
. Even if it underperformed at the box office, it still comes to home video looking like a champ, with oodles of commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes. Both the commentaries are stacked with people, and from reading the menus, you’d think there’s no way they could all be speaking together – but they are. The first is with Producers Mike Leahy and Joel Soisson (who’d go on to direct Pulse
2), Actor Samm Levine, Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin O’Neill, Editor Kirk Morri and Line Producer Ron Vecchiarelli. That motley crew has a lot of fun with being together, knowing how to balance production facts with humor. Soisson talks about how he and the director had to really fight the Weinsteins to keep the plane crash in the film and he also mentions his different fight with the MPAA over “intensity” which initially led the film to an R. Samm Levine is typically funny joking about everything, including his nude scene left on the cutting room floor.
The second commentary is a quieter affair, but still entertaining. This one pairs Director Jim Sonzero with Special Makeup Effects Designer Gary Tunnicliffe. There are a few more pauses, and a bit more sincerity on Sonzero’s behalf, but Tunnicliffe keeps it entertaining, including musings on the shoot in Romania. Okay, also of note is the “unrated” status of the film here on home video. Truth be told, there are actually a few very worth additions, including one of the best moments, where a ghost ominously creeps over a bed in some kind of Nosferatuian silent film fashion. Love it. There’s a few other scares that also made it in that benefit the film more than they would have on the cutting room floor.
Speaking of the cutting room, there’s a whole bunch of deleted scenes included, and even without any commentary, their exclusion is pretty apparent. Dexter is always a mysterious character in the film, but you can see on paper that they did have a lengthy introduction planned for him, including his journey to buy Josh’s computer post-mortem. While the deleted scenes help with character, they hurt pacing and mystery and were gladly excluded. There’s also a few director’s cut bits and alternate takes, but they are all pretty ho hum. The alternate ending is interesting enough, but the one they chose for the film conveys dread better.
Moving on, there are three featurettes – two on the film and one on the paranormal as it relates to technology. I always love those paranormal featurettes, one of the propaganda stalwarts of ghost film extras. While there’s unfortunately no Hanz Holzer here (hang on to those Amityville discs!) there’s a bunch of other people who really try hard to convince themselves that ghosts exist within the white noise of our day to day existence. Is it ironic that they’re using their own special technology to find them? The visual effects featurette offers a nice look into all the green screen sequences and some of the bigger effects, like the cover image of Bell being pulled into a skull of hands. They show the footage of her with the hands at least a good twenty times before the five or so miunutes conclude. Most interesting is how Bell had to do one of the dream scenes in reverse to get the eerie effect visible in the finished film. The last featurette is about the shooting and the film in general, with your usual puff comments by the actors and the self-congratulation of the crew. Each featurette runs a little over five minutes a piece.
Finally, the disc is concluded with the theatrical trailer.
If you’re the kind of person who just randomly states “encrypted data file” or “central processing unit” without having any clue what it means save to say it’s a computer term, then Pulse
is for you. It’s one of those mod cash-ins on our love affair with technology, like Hackers
, that doesn’t really know a lick about what it’s saying. It’s a shame, because there are some tense and effective moments in the film, and even a few bits of pointed commentary. That’s all deflected though, when old ladies bemoan the threat of WiFi. The image is a cool blue, but looks good, and the film sounds nice as well. There’s a fine variety and quality to all the extras as well, including some effective unrated scenes, so if you liked the film in theaters dial this disc into your collection. All others, consider it spam.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- 2 Feature commentaries with filmmakers
- Deleted scenes
- "The Visual Effects of Pulse" featurette
- "Pulse and the Paranormal" featurette
- "Creating the Fear: Making Pulse" featurette
- Theatrical trailer