Earlier in 2006, a killer videogame stalked teenagers in Stay Alive; Pulse ups the ante with ghostly wireless signals stalking college students. The latest J-horror remake never pitches itself over the top, refusing to pile on the jump-scares, fake-jump-scares, and the accompanying soundtrack blasts; instead, it takes a low-key approach… along the way becoming completely unconvincing and almost prodigiously unscary. Boring is the new ridiculous.
It's a shame, too, because computer-centric horror
is usually a good bet for ridiculousness. Here, the computer stuff isn't detailed enough to really bug the geeks; they'll be too busy pointing out how the movie's screenplay could be improved, and how Kristen Bell
takes one of the most disappointing baths in horror history. Article continues below
When part-time hacker Josh (Jonathan Tucker; apparently he must die) commits suicide, his ex-girlfriend Mattie (Kristen Bell) is unnerved and desperate to find out why. Because this is a J-horror remake, it inevitably has something to do with black-and-white spirits who advance in slow, herky-jerk movements (apparently, a generation of horror filmmakers have been traumatized by the dullness of old-timey home movies). The one somewhat fresh aspect of Pulse is that it's not a case of a single screechy ghost killing anyone unlucky enough to walk into certain rooms. Once the haunting is "let in," as the vague explanation is inevitably whispered, mankind – so dependent on computers and cell phones and, um, washing machines – is kinda screwed.
This attempted scope -- the break from the bloodless-slasher pattern of other PG-13 horror movies -- is admirable in theory, and it's good for a few eerie empty-street moments. But mostly the movie portrays the end of the world as a listless affair, and not in a Beckett sort of way. The amount of time it takes for Josh's friends to investigate his strange behavior, their other friends' disappearances, and the coming apocalypse is excruciating even by genre standards.
The casting of those friends could've made for a good time. It's never encouraging when a movie collects a gaggle of TV actors and somehow fails to make even one of them as interesting as their small-screen characters (especially when one of those characters is a second-string Lost castaway). Expecting Kristen Bell to create a horror-movie character as shaded and winning as TV's Veronica Mars would be futile for almost any movie, but Pulse gives her as little as possible, which in this case means a lot of walking, looking, and calling out names. Samm Levine
, one of the Freaks and Geeks kids and a natural comedian, offers a perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to elevate typical horror-movie comic relief, but the movie is too perfunctory even for a little face-saving improvisation. Instead Levine and Rick Gonzalez
(charming in Roll Bounce) are confined to the same cardboard supporting-actor purgatory.
There are a handful of eye-catching sights in Pulse, as when Somerhalder
walks through a server room that shimmers and, yes, pulsates around him with otherworldly menace, but there's so little context provided that you want to fill in the blanks yourself, trying to think of reasons this might be considered creepy. It's DIY horror: a good concept, a likable cast, desolate images. To make scary, just add something else. Anything. Please.