Am I allowed to phone in a Shocktober post? I know John has often admitted to not entirely giving his best effort to an occasional Shocktober entry or two, which is totally understandable considering reviewing this many movies in such a short amount of time is quite a task. Hell, even reviewing the amount of movies I have to review (which isn’t that many) can sometimes feel like a chore, and it especially does with a movie like Pulse. Not because it’s especially bad by any means (it actually has some sequences that are quite arresting), but because it has a lot of things that didn’t hold my attention story-wise and a few things that are just plain silly. Most of this silliness stems from the fact that a lot of this movie deals with the internet circa 2001, which of course is an inherently fun conceit, but at the same time there are actual moments in this movie that are genuinely well-executed. So it’s this weird thing where the movie isn’t stupid enough to be fun, but also isn’t cohesive enough to actually be all that compelling.
The movie centers on a man and a woman, the woman being Kudo (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant sales company and doesn’t really have any distinct characteristics. The man is Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato), who is an economics student who also doesn’t really have any distinct characteristics other than that he’s not very good at the internet. This leads to a pretty funny scene where another character has to describe to him how to do simple things on a computer like open Internet Explorer or hit the Print command. There’s even a scene after that where he goes home, pops in one of those internet service provider discs we all got in the ’90s, and then has to take out a book to figure out to use the internet. Sadly, there aren’t more scenes like this as the film progresses and gets far less focused on its net-centric premise.
The premise being that both Kudo and Ryosuke keep seeing images of ghost-like people on their computer screens, while the people around them are getting killed by the internet, which in turn makes them get sucked into the internet? I don’t know. One of my big problems with this movie is that it never clearly establishes what the rules are for this phenomenon that keeps happening. But from what I can tell, people start killing themselves, because they keep being reminded of the inevitability of their own death, possibly due to their use of computers. Again, I’m not really sure what they’re trying to say about real life in regards to life online, but I feel like this movie simply doesn’t know enough about the possibilities of the internet (since no one really did in 2001) to actually have anything meaningful to say about this new technology. There are even a few moments when we hear that dial-up modem noise used for a scary effect, which I’m pretty sure is a thing that can’t possibly be scary considering how laughably antiquated that sound is now.
But at the same time, once the movie starts to veer away from any sort of internet-induced nonsense and kind of just focuses on these people that are being turned into ghost-like figures or are just offing themselves, Pulse does kind of start to find it’s way. There’s a particularly haunting scene where all the movie’s sound cuts out (which is all for the better since the score isn’t great), and all we hear is the quiet whisper of an other-worldly specter whispering “Help me”. There are some other deaths that are eerily crafted, but just couldn’t get me into this movie because it’s such a mess storywise — like I didn’t even realize until the movie’s last 15 minutes that this phenomenon of people being compelled to die by their dial-up modem was something affecting people all over the world. So even though there are some scary moments in the film, I have to say that Pulse, much like an old person discovering the internet for the first time, doesn’t really know what it’s doing.