Review
© Alex Apple and Tyler Robbins, 2006.

Please note: the screenshots in this review are taken from the movie trailers to be found online. They are therefore not of the normal Snowblood Apple quality and will eventually be replaced.

For a review of the original Japanese movie, click here.

Directed by Jim Sonzero, 2006, 90 minutes, starring Kristen Bell, Jonathan Tucker, Ian Somerhalder, Rick Gonzalez, Christina Milian, and a cameo by Brad Dourif.

The last couple of years have been pretty fertile ground for remakes of J-Horror classics. So far, we've had The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water, in that order; and while The Ring wasn't bad, and Dark Water pretty damn good actually, The Grudge was aimed fair and square at the teen market, and suffered accordingly. Now we get perhaps the most unlikely remake to date: Pulse, the long-delayed remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo. A strange choice, perhaps, as the 2001 film was a masterpiece of understated, almost philosophical cinema, characterised by a deep sense of introversion and contemplation throughout, depicting a nightmare future in which the dead return. It wasn't just scary; it had depth hitherto unseen in modern J-Horror.

Who knows, then, what strange chain of events led to Kurosawa's original screenplay landing in the hands of teen-horror-meister Wes Craven in 2002. Yup, that Wes Craven, the guy that brought us Freddy Krueger and endless rehashes of Scream. From the very start, there was concern that the original movie's intensity could not be reproduced in the trans-Pacific journey.

Sometime in the next year, after finishing an early version of a rewrite, Craven bailed on the project as both sole writer and director, and it was shelved indefinitely (at one time even being cancelled by Bob Weinstein for being considered "too similar to The Ring"). But in 2004 the project was revived, and by 2005 filming had begun. By year's end nearly all production shots had been established, and in mid-November the film was in post-production with a release date of February 2006. We saw a trailer for the film, in an American theatre, in December 2005, a now infamous mish-mash of Pulse and original scenes from Kairo that were used to "temporarily" (it was assumed) substitute more "technical" scenes which had yet to be completed by the filmmakers in the editing room. Then February came. And went. And a vague, foggy release date of sometime in May was tentatively announced. Then the rumors began, many untrue, but unfortunately one was not: the film was going to be re-edited, and in some cases certain scenes re-filmed, to lower the film's rating handed down by the MPAA from an R (restricted to those under 17) to a PG-13. A second release date was set for July. This too passed, without an acceptable (by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films standards) PG-13 rating, and finally on August 11 Pulse, helmed by commercial director Jim Sonzero with a script "co-written" by Craven and Ray Wright, saw its heavily-altered, overly-edited story make its way into American theatres.

Synopsis

Josh (Jonathan Tucker with one of those "just entering puberty" moustaches) is walking through the Ohio (though filmed in Romania, and looking like Romania) campus courtyard. Shaking, unnerved, he's frightened because of something; something not seen but instead felt. As he makes his way past a bike we see a reflection in its mirror - a distorted albino man! Or something. He goes into the school library and rides the elevator with Creepy Old Librarian, and then begins looking around the room (with no windows, and with all the lighting capacity that apparently the poor Romanian government can afford) for an acquaintance of his for something we don't really know about. That's when the old librarian's empty book cart comes rolling down the aisle, and as we attempt to disregard Continuity Error No. 1 and fast-forward through another mind-number few minutes of Josh walking around this awful dank place, we realize the moral of this film: reading is scary. Fin. Actually, some books fall off a shelf, a monster sucks the living, well, life out of Josh, and then it's over. Or something. Oh, wait, this is where the movie begins.

We meet Mattie (Kristen Bell), a reasonably well-developed character that is a psychology undergraduate at Unnamed Ohio University, who is best friends with Izzie (Christina Milian), a slightly less-developed character who embodies the slacker student who has sex with boys who find her through her MySpace-like profile on the internet. There are other friends too, Typical Minority and hacker "Stone" (played by Rick Gonzalez, and I use quotations because I refuse to accept that is his real name), and boring slightly-chubby guy Tim (Sam Levine), but neither is important because neither is given time in the scant ninety minute film to have any sort of character development.

Mattie, at a bar filled with Romanian extras, laments to her friends that Josh hasn't talked to her, and their conversations are just text messages now, and obviously is a silly woman who doesn't realize that he's probably just watching a football game, or soccer, or futbal, I don't know what they call it in Romania. She goes home that night (not before Tim tries to escort her, which she so totally rebuffs to the point of making him a foot and a half tall), and gets a weird message from Josh, who (of course) when she calls back doesn't answer. Mattie visits Josh's apartment the next day with her somehow curled hair (or as I like to call it, Continuity Error No. 2). She finds him being creepy inside, hiding behind plastic sheeting that doesn't really make sense in his room considering the context of it being America and all, there are bugs eveyrwhere, and (I swear to God I am not making this up) his cat is dying in the closet. I mean, it's awful. I couldn't believe, nor understand, why this was added, except for shock value, but it certainly shocked me. Oh, then he hangs himself. I mean we all knew it was coming because we saw the trailer in its various stages for the past year, but Mattie didn't, and is heartbroken or whatever.

The movie sort of follows the standard plot of Kairo for a little bit. Mattie gets weird messages from Josh on her computer. There is a poorly acted scene involving a landlady who plays Stereotypical Sassy Black Woman to the point of it being disrespectful satire, and and then eventually Mattie finds Dexter, the person who bought her boyfriend's computer (played by Ian Somerhalder from ABC's LOST, who, let me say this now, was so cute and bitchy in The Rules Of Attraction as the bisexual liason of the other two boring leads, but who here is a gruff, scruffy, awful STRAIGHT man who acts about as well as he dresses). There is a website that has invited him to meet a ghost. There are pictures of people looking sad, or else like goth kids on webcams, but there are older people too, because old people are also sad sometimes. I don't know. At this point I couldn't really pay too much attention to what was happening because I became so obsessed with the choppy editing and cheap jump scares.

The film sort of falls in place like so: people are disappearing, but nobody is really paying attention, poorly composed "news" footage via "WNN" (which apparently only employs one anchor) illustrates the rash of suicides (Continuity Error No. 1 Billion, see below), and Mattie and Dexter, through some crazy computer talk and the "assistance" (or lack thereof) of the person who was supposed to meet Josh at the film's start, forge a plan to shut down the system and stop the ghosts from getting through with what looks like that memory stick I use to back up my computer's files. Needless to say lots of ghosts appear, anyone who sees them "dies" and then blah blah blah the movie is over.

Alex Apple's verdict:

Let's face it, a J-Horror fan's hopes for this film would not be heightened when, in the opening credits, there's no mention of the original other than a very vague "based on" statement. Already Jim Sonzero has laid out his ground by introducing a late-teen, college student cast – the more mature adult responses of Michi and Kawashima in the original are sadly missed. No, this is a "scream at the slightest thing that might mildly freak you out" kind of movie, the sort of thing the BBFC might rank as "contains mild peril" if it were rated PG. I'm sure the only reason Pulse is rated 15 in the UK is because Mattie utters one, solitary "fuck" when under slight pressure. The rest of the movie tries so hard to be scary, it fails totally: every horror cliché is here, from the rapid jump-cuts, to flickering lights, to grotesque gargoyle figures, to the washed-out blue-green tint of the entire film which flags up oh-so-obviously that something just isn't right here.

And let's talk about that tint for a moment. Last seen in The Ring, where, despite Gore Verbinski's hack-like directorial chops, it worked because it was reasonably fresh and because the director had at least an eye on producing a few shots which looked nice, in Pulse all it does is irritate. It's not needed – in many ways, the movie would be better if it wasn't there, just to show us that, initally at least, what is transpiring is happening in a normal, everyday world. And in many ways that's what was convincing about Kairo – it showed a world slowly unravelling despite itself. Yet this tint is almost alienating, distancing us from reality, and does not assist in suspending disbelief.

How much does Pulse take from Kairo? Well, if Kairo were freshly-squeezed orange juice from choice equatorial oranges, Pulse would be very watered-down supermarket own brand orange cordial. Clearly the general plot is the same, though Kairo's existential depths are diluted into a haunted computer scenario. The library scene's there, only vamped up to make it VERY MUCH SCARIER (only it's not, of course); the red tape features BUT YOU HAVE TO USE A LOT OF IT TO KEEP THEM OUT (rather than just tape around a door to let them in); the website's still there BUT A LOT MORE OBVIOUS; and the apocalyptic finale remains, albeit with an obligatory hopeful conclusion rather than Kurosawa's rather bleak vision of the future. It's like watching a five-minute summary of Kairo edited down by five-year-olds, with the scenes in the wrong order.

What's wrong with this film then? For a start, it's just not scary. For a horror movie, that's criminal. You could argue it's about the slow-burn, maybe, but there's barely an effective jump scene, let alone a long, drawn-out creepiness. The ghosts (or whatever they're supposed to be – could be aliens, for all the explanation we get in the movie) are overdone, and look like they'd be more suited hanging off the stonework of Salisbury Cathedral making faces at the tourists. The camerawork is borderline misogynistic, and the direction and cinematography is functional at best. The plot crawls along at a snail's pace, making the movie's ninety minute or so running time seem much, much longer. This isn't helped by every character explaining the plot over and over again until we're forced to understand that what is happening is BAD. There's a dire cameo by Brad Dourif whose only purpose is to advance the plot a little further, and remind everyone that what is happening is BAD. There's a really crass anti-piracy scene that made me want to chuck things at the screen (but which would have annoyed the other nine people in the cinema no end). And, finally, the film comes perilously close to resolving itself with a terrible deus ex machina ending before chickening out and doing something a little less cowardly (but not much).

To its credit, the apocalyptic scenes are quite well done. Um, that's it.

Let's put it this way, at the end of the screening everyone looked cheesed off, even the three seventeen-year-olds who this pile of garbage is presumably aimed at. Go and watch Kairo again, and let's try to pretend Pulse doesn't exist.

Tyler Robbins' verdict:

If you skipped through the synopsis, I don't blame you, I barely had the patience to write it. Pulse is truly a disaster of a film. The cast, at first glance, appear to be novices of the trade, mere eye candy for teenage ticket-buyers, but Pulse is helmed surprisingly by its two female leads Bell (of the CW's Veronica Mars) and Milian (a relatively down-to-earth and successful American R&B pop singer). The rest of the cast is tertiary, whether the script demands it or not. An interesting note: Kirsten Dunst, who stars in the anticipated Sofia Copolla vehicle Marie Antoinette, was originally signed on to play Mattie, but because of Pulse's purgatory and time spent in development hell, had to drop out to complete Spiderman 2. And then Spiderman 3. Yeah, this thing was rolling for a while.

Pulse is a tragedy. Jump scenes, loud noises for things that aren't there, and COMPLETELY RIPPING OFF THE AFOREMENTIONED RING run rampant in this film which barely runs for an hour and a half. There is this blue filter throughout the film totally yanked from Gore Verbinksi that exists to note depression - this filter being necessary because the actors themselves cannot exhibit it. This movie really made me mad. What is this crap?

The story is... meandering. It starts off Kairo-esque, but it's just too much. Everything is thrown in my face. Don't bootleg. Don't stay on AIM for five hours. Ebay is from the devil. Don't download any upcoming Dimension Films releases. And did you see those posters of Chicago and Sin City on the dorm walls? Riddle me that, product placement. It's just stupid. The whole film is a contrived, confusing mess of what was once a decent film.

I viewed this film opening weekend here in the States, and shortly thereafter I came in contact with a friend who runs the Asian film club for a local university and who told me he had the advance screening version of Pulse shown in March to test audiences. He and I watched the movie with a couple of nerdy art majors, and I just have to say that what I saw in that advance screening was quite different from what I saw in the theatre. This film has been butchered by the Weinstein brothers. Having seen this alternate version of the film, I don't know if I can fairly judge Pulse. In its March incarnation it was a longer (I guess about a half hour or so), less special-effects laden thought piece, although it was still no match for its Asian cousin. But something awful happened in the editing process between then and now.

I'll sum this up: I don't know why the ghosts flicker like Samara in the last scene of The Ring. That wasn't in the test screening. Nor do I understand the blue lens creating depression because the actors can't act sad. I don't know why they ruined the "ballet" ghost like that (they "distorted her reception" the moment she was supposed to do her strange fall and rise dance). That wasn't in the test screening either. I certainly don't know why the silo scene, which to me was considered the most poignant and shocking moments of both the original film and the screening version, was cut, and instead I'm stuck here with visions of ghosts with SIX LEGS.

The reshot scenes are painfully obvious throughout (including one with a woman in her fifties screaming about wi-fi to the point that I laughed out loud). Several scenes appear in several different variations depending on the version of the film or trailer you've seen: in one trailer he sends an email to all of his friends, in a reshot scene in the final film it's his interruption on their chat room discussion; in a scene where Mattie turns her computer around to face the wall, there are different versions of horrible scenes of what is imposed on the screen, even though in the final film version nothing is on it at all; in Mattie's bathtub freak out there's no telling how many variations of monster images float on or under the bubbles and water; and then there is the silo scene, which is forever chopped from the final film, but which, as of the writing of this review, continues to be used in the US promotion of Pulse.

There were SO MANY continuity errors and blunders throughout this film that it would appear whoever edited the damned thing never bothered to watch it all the way through to begin with. The story is only half-written most of the time: if this "black ash" syndrome affects everybody like a virus, then why are people committing suicide en masse instead of seeking medical attention? How are people not noticing those who don't kill themselves bursting into ash, as there are black shadows being mopped up and seen throughout the campus? And just WHY are the ghosts coming into our world? Best observation of the evening: why was "Stone" screaming on about not wanting to die if the ghosts sucked your will to live?

Early figures show this movie flopping, and I'd say this film gets what it deserves - it took an excellent Japanese film, had the opportunity to translate that to America's technology-obsessed culture, but instead created an alright (if ordinary) tale of apocalypse and isolationism, and then butchered it and cut it into a tiny digestible finger sandwich of teenage-acceptable crap, before enticing me to pay to have myself gagged by it. And don't even get me started on the red tape.

I have the highest of hopes for a Director's Cut of this film being released on DVD, not just because it deserves it, but because every film released now has to pretend like it is worthy of being a Criterion release and throws out three or four versions (*cough* The Grudge *cough*). Pulse could have heralded a renaissance of American horror films; a psychological film in an American film complex dominated by slasher films like Saw and the AWFUL Grudge remakes. It should've been what Dark Water could have been had Walter Salles' original version been pushed during the winter instead of being butchered and stuck into the slow summer season. In my deepest, most kinky fantasy, I imagine this seductive beast making a statement about how the West consumes electronics to be closer to one another but really just drives ourselves farther apart. Instead I get a movie where the pop singer is the BEST ACTOR on screen (by the way, Christina Milian is a damned good actress in this film - her final scene is key to the film, and to her testament as a budding Hollywood asset).

I have never given a scathingly negative review for a film before. But I was so disappointed by Pulse. What bothers me is not the poor execution, but the fact that this film is such a confused mess. Was there not a film for which the rights were bought and the storyline copied that they could not have looked at for guidance? Perhaps an unrated director's cut, more akin to that test screening version of the film, will correct the theatrical version's many faults. But as for the theatrical Pulse, it's one of the most poorly executed movies I've ever seen.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 3/10
Violence: 2/10
Chills: 1/10
Gross-outs: just a cat
Sex: alluded to/10
Minority characters: all die, no spoilers there
Best Line Ever Delivered By A Goth Girl: "Maybe it's the booze in your coffee!"
£6.80: I want it back, Cineworld of Swindon. I have the ticket stub to prove it ;-(

*** A horrible, confused and confusing mess***

Discussion about this movie can be found here on our forums.

Pulse Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006

Links

We've tried to avoid straightforward reviews here - you can find them dotted all over the net. Try moviereviewindex.com for a good collection of links.

http://www.pulsethemovie.net/ - Official site, which features a lot of Flash, but not much else
http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/pulse/trailer/ - Apple has every version of the trailer available (the first is the theatrical trailer from last winter, the second is a reedited version with certain images imposed on computers and other inanimate objects for no reason at all, and the third is the domestic trailer seen on television and in theaters leading up to the film's August US premiere). Also downloadable in a variety of resolutions at http://www.moviemaze.de/media/trailer/2493/pulse.html
http://horror.about.com/b/a/256839.htm - collection of interviews with director and cast
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulse_%28film%29 – The Wikipedia article offers a generally excellent synopsis and unbiased view of the poor critical reception to the film

this review (c) (introduction) Alex Apple and Tyler Robbins; (synopsis) Tyler Robbins; (Alex Apple's verdict) Alex Apple; (Tyler Robbins' verdict) Tyler Robbins, 2006. All other text and webdesign (c) 2002-2006 mandiapple.com. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.