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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

PULSE 2 -- DVD review by porfle

2006's PULSE, based on the Japanese horror film KAIRO, began what will be a trilogy about an apocalyptic invasion by supernatural entities after a freak technological glitch inadvertently bridges the gulf between the living and the dead. PULSE 2 (2008) gets right on with the story and pretty much assumes that those of us who didn't see the first film will catch up, giving us just enough exposition along the way to keep the slowly-unfolding mystery intriguing while maintaining a high creep factor.

The afterlife, it turns out, is a dark and lonely dimension. So when a portal to the world of the living is opened up, ghosts begin to pop up all over the place--via computers, cell phones, and televisions--and suck the will to live from anyone they touch. These victims, in turn, either commit suicide or die from a horrible disease that quickly turns them to carbon dust. When divorced mother Michelle (Georgina Rylance) wakes up in her apartment amidst a cloud of this dust and finds that her young daughter Justine is missing, she fears the worst. But things are much darker and more sinister than even she suspects.

Meanwhile, Michelle's ex-husband Stephen (Jamie Bamber, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and daughter Justine (Karley Scott Collins) are hiding out in a cabin in the woods, where they hope to remain isolated from the plague that is spreading everywhere. Stephen's insufferable girlfriend Marta (Boti Bliss) shows up and, after accidentally turning on his laptop, they discover that he's receiving dozens of email messages reading "Help Me" over and over--from a dead person. Their location now exposed by this Internet connection, Stephen and Justine are then forced to flee cross-country in search of a safe zone beyond the reach of technology, with malevolent spirits hot on their trail.

For a sequel, PULSE 2 is a fairly stand-alone story that had me in suspense throughout. While the open ending left me anticipating part three, there was enough of a resolution to keep it from feeling as wide open as the middle entries in other trilogies often are.

Much of the early part of the film has an eerie "Twilight Zone" feel as we try to figure out what's going on. The ghosts look like old, flickering black-and-white video images, which is a pretty cool idea. Writer-director Joel Soisson does a good job of staging the scary stuff, giving us some mildly effective shock cuts while establishing an overall atmosphere of dread.

There isn't a lot of gore, although an extreme BCM (Bad Cat Moment) may have cat lovers hitting the fast forward button. Here, Michelle's Aunt Carmen (veteran actress Lee Garlington) and Uncle Pete are on either side of a locked bedroom door, and one of them is a ghost. Later, a delightfully nasty scene has an infected woman seducing a fat guy and then literally being reduced to black goo beneath his heaving body as they make out on the floor. Other instances of violent suicide and hostile ghost attacks help to keep things interesting.

As it's hard to depict the end of the world on a low budget, a large amount of PULSE 2 is done with green screen. Granted, this is some pretty good green screen--I've definitely seen a lot worse. But while you don't notice it as much in a futuristic or fantasy setting, it's pretty obvious when used for everyday backgrounds like houses, city streets, forests, deserts, etc. I got used to this after awhile and it didn't bother me, but for viewers with a less willing suspension of disbelief this element will probably prove a major drawback.

Karley Scott Collins handles the crucial role of Justine very convincingly for such a young actress. Jamie Bamber and Georgina Rylance are also good as her parents, Stephen and Michelle, whose custody battle over Justine really gets serious when one of them joins the ranks of the living dead. The rest of the cast is fine, particularly the ever-reliable Lee Garlington as Aunt Carmen and Boti Bliss (who looks like she could be Ashton Kutcher's sister) as the sexy but unstable Marta. Special mention goes to Todd Giebenhain as Ziegler, a sarcastic, wrapped-in-red computer geek (the color red repels ghosts) who holds Justine hostage until Stephen ventures into a haunted warehouse to fetch him a particular electronic component. It's a good bet we'll see him again in part three.

The DVD is in matted widescreen format with Dolby 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a group commentary track, two deleted scenes (an unfinished one shows the actors performing in front of the green screen), and a preview of PULSE 3.

After sneaking a peek at the IMDb page for this movie, I notice that so far it isn't exactly taking the world by storm. For me, it was consistently entertaining, with a certain Dean Koontz vibe that I found appealing. PULSE 2 isn't a classic, and there's that little matter of the ubiquitous green screen, but for a low-budget, direct-to-video apocalyptic horror flick I'd say it's well worth checking out.
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