Directed by Jim Sonzero. Starring Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Milian, Rick Gonzalez, Jonathan Tucker, Samm Levine, Octavia Spencer. (2006, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 18, 2006
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 horror film, Kairo, is an unnerving riff on modern Japan's increasingly anxious relationship with technology and the shades of its past. It's also stark, minimalist, and off-putting if you're not in the right mood when you view it. Bizarre incidents occur without preface or explanation, and it's only after the film is over that you find yourself returning to Kurosawa's bloodlessly neutered world: Kairo gnaws at your thoughts for what might seem like ages afterward. It's like David Lynch directed by Ozu, and it has far more staying power than you might be comfortable with. Pulse, the American remake of Kurosawa's genius is anything but: It's the McDonald's Unhappy Meal to the original's elegantly obtuse sashimi o' sorrow. When college student Mattie (Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell) finds her boyfriend (Tucker) dead of an apparent suicide, she, perhaps understandably, freaks out. But what really blows her mind is that he starts sending electronic transmissions (via computers, phones, etc.) to her and others from – where else? – beyond the grave. After locating his old computer and hooking up with its new owner (Somerhalder of TV's Lost), she discovers a cryptic Web site that queries users with a spooky come-on: "Do you want to meet a ghost?" As it turns out, she already has, and so have a lot of other people, who are either committing suicide or turning gray and eventually vanishing. From there on out, it's Dexter and Mattie against the dead, whose malefic spirits have cluttered up the afterlife, or lack thereof, and are presently engaged in a sort of internecine warfare-by-attrition with the living. Faded and hazy like underdeveloped photographs, they're edging their way back into our world via our most personal and trusted devices – again, our cell phones, our computers – which is a genuinely disturbing notion that here goes absolutely nowhere, bloated with unnecessary exposition in the manner of a Fifties sci-fi potboiler. With a script co-credited to a stumbling Wes Craven (who should know better), Pulse tries to match the peripheral creepiness of Kairo and comes up wanting. It's a curiously dull Americanization of one of the finest examples of subtle, moody J-horror out there, and it's likely to fade from memory in the time it takes to read this review – unlike Kairo, which will trouble your thoughts for years to come.