Complex and intricate stories usually don’t lend themselves to sequels. By their very nature, however, they should be ripe for revisiting. After all, so many divergent factors make up their effectiveness that pulling a few out for a second (or third) go round not only seems logical - it feels mandatory. Franchise creators rarely look at the source in total, though. They pick and choose through the various elements, honing in on ones they can easily repeat, readily manipulate, and hopefully expand upon. The end result usually looks nothing like the multifaceted and meaning original. Pulse 3 is the third take on material featured in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s sensational Kairo. Now Westernized and shuttled straight to DVD, what worked as a mesmerizing take on the meaning of life is now a holding dock for dull horror clichés.
Seven years after her mother tried to kill her as part of a worldwide techno-spirit plague, young Justine can’t shake the fact that she doesn’t belong as part of some failed foster family in a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome survival camp. She longs for something more, and finds it when an illegal computer ends up in her hands. Chatting with an unknown man named Adam, Justine is compelled by visions of her mom and messages from beyond stating that she must help the far off stranger. So she decides to head out into the wilderness, her sights set on the big city. But in this vast wasteland inhabited by the spirits of the dead, our heroine may not make it - and what she finds once she arrives may not be what she anticipated, either.
The problem with Pulse 3 (new to home video from Genius Products, the Weinstein Company, and Dimension Extreme) is instantly recognizable. It makes itself known the moment actress Brittany Finamore finds a forbidden laptop - technology being verboten in her post-apocalyptic shanty town - and starts cyber-flirting with a man who makes her feel more mature. That’s right, it’s the same old rebellious teen tripe enhanced by the possibility of frequent paranormal cold showers. Naiveté vs. the standard adolescent angst. All throughout the opening of this unnecessary sequel, Justine pouts and preens like she’s the only person to lose a loved one in the phantom Armageddon, and the writer/director Joel Soisson decides to indulge her. The he takes on a routine road trip, just to make matters more aggravating.
During these slow, somber cross country treks, Pulse 3 goes from mildly interesting to horrifically dull. Ms. Finamore is not a compelling presence, and her voice-over conversations with Adam are standard juvenile gal, suave lothario stereotypes. When she turns up at Caleb Wilke’s farmhouse, we anticipate the standard stalk and slash. And after a weird late night inference of something more…sexual, the truth about the man’s intentions is made clear. There are times when Pulse 3 plays fair with our expectations. When Wilke tries to satisfy his dead wife’s death wish, the repeated F/X of her shotgun suicide are very effective. And later on, when Justine must confront a Houston overloaded with specters, the atmosphere is tense and unsettling.
But Soisson makes the typical mistake of most low budget filmmakers - he substitutes speeches for scares. When a forgotten plotpoint individual from Pulse 2 returns to discuss the nation’s “nuclear” solution to the ghost problem, the science-psycho-babble actually sounds solid. But then we get the typical ranting villain variation on fear, and we grow weary of all the yakking. Even worse, much of the explanation for how this will all work (think electronics and EMP - duh) gets tangled up in what are supposed to be shades of psychosis and incomprehensible motives. All throughout Pulse 3, things happen without the necessary context to make them real, or scary, or interesting. Even the finale is filled with cheap tricks, a foot chase, and a couple of low brow “boo’s”.
All throughout the course of his DVD commentary, Soisson, along with actress Finamore, producer Mike Leahy, and Editor Kirk Morri discuss their approach to this project, and in some instances, you wonder exactly what movie they are talking about. They’ve got masterwork on their minds. The use of greenscreen, so effective in creating an otherworldly ambience in Pulse 2, looks cheesy and unnecessary now. The behind the scenes featurette gives the standard slap on the back look at how a movie like this is made, and overall, there is a pride and a sense of satisfaction that just doesn’t gel with what we see onscreen. Indeed, much of the added content plays like people trying to convince us of a failed projects inherent worth. It doesn’t work.
Frankly, not much in Pulse 3 does. This is a clear letdown from the previous Soisson helmed sequel, and a massive move away from the genius that was Kurosawa’s original. In Kairo, the main theme explored life and the value (or lack therein) of living. As the few survivors wandered an ever desolate landscape, how they clung to what little they had left and how they validated trying to carry on became something almost epic. The American version was all about cellphones run amok. Thanks to the miniscule budgets involved in both, Pulse 2 and 3 could not explore such electronic spectacle. Soisson is stuck trying to tingle your spine with what is in essence, a character study. Instead of going to a big bang end of the world, his film goes for the small and personal. It’s a literal case of too little, too late.