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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Another Japanese Horror movie remade in America. What gives?
What appears to "give" is that Hollywood thinks it can take a popular Horror movie made by Asians and make it better with Caucasian faces. I call it the "Godzilla folly", after the worsening of the original GODZILLA movie by adding a Caucasian actor and patronizing narration to the movie before it was shown to American audiences.
While Gore Verbinski's THE RING was superior to RINGU, nearly everything else from GODZILLA (1999) to THE GRUDGE has been much worse than it's Japanese parent (although even JU-ON left much to be desired).
Everybody wanted in on this movie. American Horror Bürgermeister, Wes Craven (DEADLY BLESSING, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM, RED EYE) co-wrote the script with newbie Ray Wright, based on the original script by Kioshi Kurosawa (CURE, KÔREI, SAKEBI) for the 2001 hit KAIRO (THE CIRCUIT aka PULSE). Producers Michael Leahy (PHANTOMS, FEAST) and Joel Soisson (THE PROPHECY, PHANTOMS, DRACULA 2000, FEAST) brought their legendary credentials to this, plus Bob and Harvey Weinstein wanted in so they got Executive Producer credit.
Now you just know with big names like Wes Craven, Leahy, Soisson, and the Weinstein brothers sharing the Producer credit, that they are going to get an untested schmuck for a director. Someone who has never directed a Horror feature film or even a TV show in his life, right? That way they can call all the shots and the director can take the fall if it tanks, right?
The director is Jim Sonzero. Never heard of him? You probably never will again. Jim was ostensibly put in charge of a $20 million dollar budget despite having no experience directing Horror movies of any kind. Jim had no experience even writing anything scary: $20 million dollar budget.
And yet, if for no other reason than the source material was pretty good, Jim nearly made a good picture. I wonder what Jim could do with a million dollar budget and no giant producers breathing down his neck. I'd pay to see it.
PULSE begins with a young haunted man named Josh Ockmann (Jonathon Tucker: THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE , Masters of Horror: DANCE OF THE DEAD). He lives in a world of highly tinted reality, wavering between blue and green. Into this cathode colored world, he enters a library, looking for someone. He doesn't find who he is looking for, but what happens to him makes you think that his soul or something got sucked out of him.
Now we are with some partying young kids at a club. They are having the kind of conversation you'd be having too if you were half-soused. Because I was sober, their conversation was superficial and dull. The gist of it was that Mattie Webber (Kristian Bell: DEEPWATER) wondered why Josh, her boyfriend perhaps, wasn't calling her. None of Josh's pals, sitting at the bar, had seen him in some time.
Mattie's friend and room mate, Isabel Fuentes (Christie Milian) has no idea what has happened to Josh, and doesn't care. Why doesn't Mattie find someone new? (Snap! Snap!)
Her male friend, Stone (Rick Gonzalez: WAR OF THE WORLDS), doesn't know what happened to Josh, why doesn't Mattie find out for herself? (toke! toke!)
Her other male friend, Tim Weinberg (Samm Levine: CLUB DREAD) has a crush on Mattie and so is just looking for the chance for Josh to disappear (gosh! gulp!).
Too bad for Tim that Mattie wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole.
Mattie finally decides to go to Josh's apartment, confront him, and winds up getting the shock of her life.
One less Josh later, Mattie gets a package in the mail. Three rolls of red tape and a note from Josh, "It keeps them out. I don't know why."
Still later, the four friends are talking online when Josh's IM tag comes up repeating one phrase: "Help me."
Figuring that Josh's computer is still on and looping an old message, Stone agrees to go to the dead man's apartment and turn the computer off. When Stone gets to the apartment, he finds that Josh's computer is gone. Then he gets the shock of his life.
To be honest, the scary scenes, when presented, are done quite well at first. Sonzero does a good job of presenting a world that is emptying itself. And that the emptiness itself is encroaching on humanity. The problem, and its a big one, is someone somewhere in production thought it would be a really super-cute idea to present the entire movie in a kind of nifty washed out blue or grey tint. The tint is so obvious that it distracts, calling attention to itself and making us think that we may be in someone's dream and all of this is going to go to regular color any second.
For a Horror movie to work, there needs to be a clear distinction between the normal world and the altered (in this case) ghostly world. And it doesn't need spiffy digital coloring tricks to do it. The PULSE premise is pretty cool: technology has advanced to the point where a new communication spectrum has been tapped for broadcast. Not that a new bandwidth spectrum has been discovered, you understand, but that a spectrum of bandwidth (lots of spectrums of light, few are used for broadcasting) is now available for communication. Something far beyond AM, FM, FM2, etc. But by tapping into this spectrum and opening it wide to a kind of Super broadband, something from the other side, long kept at bay, is now able to infiltrate our entire digital communication system, and enter our world. It's the old "Technology is evil" chestnut, but its put to good effect here.
Mattie eventually tracks down the guy who has Josh's old computer and, extraordinary hacker that he is, can break through Josh's ghost riddled computer and make a few discoveries of his own. Turns out that Josh was something of a hacker himself and hacked into the wrong computer, unleashing a wicked boo that was kept in check on another system. This über hacker, Dexter, does not have a lab, but he is uncannily able to circumvent all of the problems that every other person on earth has with these broadband ghosts. How does Dexter (Ian Somerhalder: LOST [TV]) avoid the ghosts? How, for that matter, does Mattie avoid the ghosts, when all of her friends are dying around her? This is an enormous gaping plothole where the movie has established the rules of death and then neatly ignores them for the two main protagonists.
PULSE also gets
What could have been a good movie bogs down under its own attempt at cute and clever as well as never figuring out how to establish mood and atmosphere. If everything is moody and atmospheric, then nothing is.
Two Shriek Girls.
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