Saturday, May 22, 2010

Maggie 2010: Maggie watches a sub-par horror flick, recommends others

#69. Pulse

Oh, this horror film was tedious. I say so at the outset because I really wanted it to be silly fun like Pontypool (Canadian content, represent!). But ladies and gentlemen, 'twasn't to be. There are essentially two ways to start a good horror film: Either you have the very gradual introduction of characters and context in a relaxed, naturalized setting -- think The Descent -- such that the true horror of the film sneaks up on all parties, and the audience, at the same time, or you have dramatic irony in reverse: At the film's start a character is running from something, to somewhere, because he or she knows something you don't, and fear of that unknown translates into a kind of urgency for the viewer.

Well, let's just say Pulse attempts this second opening. The issue, we'll later discover, is that people's use of telecommunications networks has created an easy means for a species of "others" to hop from frequency to broadcast frequency, infecting people, stealing their will to live, and thus either driving them to kill themselves or immaterialize into ash. And trust me, there really isn't much to explain why certain cases turn to ash and others just kill themselves. The only thing that can stop them? Red tape. Cover every available crack in your room with this stuff, and evidently they can't touch any of your network frequencies. Tongues in cheeks, everyone? Good. So, back to this beginning:

A young man is in a library. It looks to be a library in the most decrepit college you've ever seen, from the colorization alone and the severely flickering fluorescent lights. He is not walking with much urgency; there's nothing at all significant about his gestures. Still we're supposed to believe that he would wander over to a section of the library suddenly empty, extremely dark, with fixture damage everywhere. And then when an "other" jumps out from the bookcase (oh, right -- and there isn't even synchronicity about what these portals are: despite the movie's pointed look at broadband telecommunications, these "others" pop out behind books, under bathwater, inside dryers, etc.) he essentially falls down and becomes useless.

The problem is, from the outset the viewer needs to believe in characters acting like humans. There are so many other things this film might have done to further that discourse -- the main character, Mattie (Kristen Bell), is a psych student, for instance, but that potential angle for social commentary dries up quick -- but I would have settled even for basic motivations for all the characters' lines and actions. Absent this, I thoroughly recommend watching the poignant anime Serial Experiments: Lain, about a schoolgirl whose city is undergoing a rash of suicides by people who then mysteriously turn up alive on the internet, instead.


cjb said...

You should watch Kiyoshi Kurosawa's original, which has some of the scariest moments I ever experienced in a theatre.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The only part of "Pulse" that I enjoyed was when the IT technician suddenly turned up at the end and just VOMITED exposition. He didn't care about survival, all he cared about was explaining the backstory!

A symbol for the all-around clumsiness of this dumb movie.