Freak to Cheek

Washington City Paper | August 18, 2006
Malevolent spirits trapped in VHS cassettes, relentless specters that can be kept at bay with masking tape: When it comes to Western adaptations of contemporary Japanese horror flicks such as Ringu and Ju-On, American audiences have bought into some pretty out-there concepts. Pulse, Jim Sonzero’s flawed adaptation of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 tech-horror film, Kairo, however, will test even the most devoted of Asian cinephiles. When college student/hacker Josh (Jonathan Tucker) inadvertently triggers the release of wireless-technology-bound supernatural forces, he is among the first “infected”—that is, he has his will to live consumed by a really pissed-off looking apparition, until his malaise drives him to the point of hanging himself with a computer cable. With an unexplainable suicide epidemic on the rise and their classmates rapidly disappearing from campus, a group of students led by Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Mattie (Kristen Bell), decides to investigate. Co-scripters Wes Craven and Kurosawa’s setup is a flimsy one, and Sonzero does the screenplay no favors with his execution. Outside of repeated visits to Josh’s apartment, the “investigation” consists mainly of each group member individually making contact with the spirit world—via an ominous Web site that features a webcam to the afterlife—before the ghosts come a-callin’. Unfortunately, Sonzero & Co. show a complete disregard for the biting social commentary that made the source material so compelling: Whereas Kairo was an allegorical study of the ways in which technology designed to connect people has, instead, divided them, Pulse focuses solely on jump-out-of-your-seat scares—of which there are plenty, courtesy of the film’s twitchy, glitchy, Silent Hill–reject ethereal nasties. But with only a set of one-dimensional characters spouting such lame lines as “They were looking for a door, and we gave it to them!” and humor too infrequent to keep them engaged otherwise, audiences won’t likely find any reason to sit back down for the rest of the film. By the time things in Pulse take a laughable turn for the apocalyptic, the only question left worth asking is, “If hackery can bring about the end of the world, who will stop Sonzero from making another film?”

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