Plot: Josh (Jonathan Tucker) is a college student with an interest in computers and in specific, he likes to explore hacking into various systems. His latest hack has tapped into some kind of mysterious database even he can’t recognize and soon after, he turns up in an apparent suicide. In the wake of his death, whatever he unleashed in the hack spreads throughout the entire campus and his girlfriend Mattie (Kristen Bell) is getting strange messages. The digital transmissions just repeat “help me” and seem to be from Josh, which combines with the rash of campus suicides and odd atmosphere to push Mattie into survival mode. It soon becomes clear that the suicide virus is spread via the internet, cell phones, and other digital communications, which means it could infect the entire globe in little time. As Mattie tries to survive and figure out Josh’s messages, can she unlock a way to shut down the virus and save mankind?
Entertainment Value: Pulse was released during the tidal wave of American remakes of Japanese horror films, with this one putting an English language spin on Kairo, a more than solid supernatural chiller. As with most of the other remakes, Pulse fails to capture the eerie atmosphere of the original, but it isn’t the worst of the lot. The story keeps some of the beats from the original and even recreates some of the iconic sequences, but it just isn’t the same. The cast seems disinterested, the material seems aimed at teens, and there’s just no real passion evident, leaving Pulse to feel like a mediocre, going through the motions kind of production. The real issue is that the movie never builds any suspense or mood, it just throws in some jump scares and hopes that is enough to sneak past. Even the unrated version feels tame by any standard, with minimal blood and few attempts to scare or unnerve, which is a shame. The visual effects are also low rent and often a total mess, which doesn’t help. Pulse winds up as watchable, but I’d recommend seeking out the original instead.
As I said above, the cast of Pulse seems mostly disinterested, which leads to dull, forgettable performances. I didn’t expect award level efforts here, but a little effort would have gone a long way, as there’s little enthusiasm and even in the more tense moments, little presence. Kristen Bell has the lead and she is not terrible, but runs at a low energy level and doesn’t seem connected with the material at all. She just hits the basic needs of the script and does little else, even when she’s in scenes that are intended to be scary, she seems barely present. I’ve seen some terrific work from Bell in other projects, so I have to think she just didn’t care about this one and it shows, in a very lackluster performance. No one else really steps up either, though the script doesn’t give anyone much to work with. There’s some well known talent however, with Samm Levine, Ian Somerhalder, Octavia Spencer, Jonathan Tucker, Christina Milian, and Rick Gonzalez all part of the ensemble.