It’s not the soundest cinematic lineage - excellent foreign fright film to hackneyed American remake followed by one (or more) direct to DVD sequels. And when the main movie in question is the brilliant Japanese shocker Kairo, the pedigree becomes even more problematic. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s amazing movie, about the end of the world as propagated by out of control technology and basic human indifference, resonated with the kind of power only questions of life and death can create. Its wonky Western conversion, the WB-friendly Pulse was a passable imitation at best. Thanks to the resulting influx of PG-13 demographic cash, Dimension Extreme has commissioned a continuing franchise. Pulse 2 shows some promise, but the stink of a calculated cash grab just can’t be avoided.
The world as we know it is dead. Spirits, desperate to reconnect with the life they long for, have used WiFi and cellphone signals to infiltrate reality. As a result, people have been dying, either by having their souls drained or via suicide. Married couple Stephen and Michelle have been separated for quite a while. She’s devastated after losing custody of their daughter Justine, and to make matters worse, her husband is now shacking up with the slutty Marta. When her child turns up missing, Michelle goes ballistic, searching for her baby. Stephen, equally concerned for Justine’s safety, enters the desolate, dangerous world of the abandoned big city. There, technology has destroyed everything, and his only hope is to find his little girl and take her to a safe zone. But as we soon learn, there really is no security from restless, relentless ghosts - or the vengeance of a mother scorned.
If tone and atmosphere were all a horror film needed to succeed, Pulse 2 would be a certified classic. In the hands of producer turned writer/director Joel Soisson, this moody attempt at recapturing the first film’s modern world mayhem is a decent, often enjoyable attempt. But it’s not a complete success, mostly for reasons that have to do with characterization, narrative logistics, and the faintest whiffs of familiarity. No matter how hard it tries, Pulse 2 cannot escape the mandatory J-Horror clichés. All the ghosts come from the monochrome school of creeps, and their dead eyed ennui grows grating after a while. They don’t even attack, really. They merely walk up to their victims and suck the spectral F/X out of them. Like the metaphysical mumbo jumbo used to explain why this is happening (at least it’s clearer here than in the first film), Pulse 2 just feels overly familiar.
But Soisson deserves credit for employing some interesting stylistic choices to switch things up. There is lots of green screen work, clearly used to broaden the scope of the backdrops and give the locations an eerie, otherworldly vibe. We also get nice shots of society post-apocalypse, the random burning car and deserted streets reminding us of how fragile our existence and world order really is. As for the acting, the no name cast does a decent job, especially in light of the ludicrous character beats they must endure. Jamie Barber as Stephen is stuck in stoic hysterics mode, constantly calling out for his little girl - that is, when he isn’t trying to console her constant whining. As Justine, little Karley Scott Collins switches between sensible and responsive to whimpering and wanting her mommy. Even after she sees that her parent is a poltergeist, she still runs after her like a whelp to a warm teat.
As our female leads, both Georgina Rylance and Boti Bliss are stuck in what could best be described as a misogynist’s misguided fantasy. Michelle is portrayed as a Susan Smith psychopath, the pending divorce sending her straight down the murder/suicide path. Once we learn her secret (pssst…she’s DEAD! ), she’s nothing more than a plot point prop. Ms. Bliss has it worse. As the horndog home wrecker who seduced our hero, she’s hot to trot even during the end of the world. Later on, when she becomes another victim of the wireless plague, it’s nothing but nudity. That’s right; our professional actress is reduced to little more than a bit of fright flick titillation. It seems almost unfair, since Marta is so poorly defined to begin with.
As part of the DVD package, Soisson is joined by several members of the crew, and all spend a great deal of time explaining and praising their efforts. It’s not as self-congratulatory as it sounds, but there are moments when our narrators clearly forget they are talking about a direct-to-video sequel. The same applies for the two deleted scenes offered. One features a character catalyst nicknamed “The Man in Red” - clearly important to Part 3…which is already in the works - explaining the entire story to the audience (by way of an unimportant extra). The other has our harried father trying to comfort his child. Neither does more than the film itself, and suggests a story that always knew what it wanted to be from the very beginning.
In truth, there is nothing technically wrong with Pulse 2. It breezes by without bogging down in unnecessary macabre minutia, and the effective opening moments make up for a middle act overloaded with interpersonal inconsistencies. The ending may seem obvious, especially to anyone who’s been following the narrative nuances from the very beginning, and by reducing the story to a tale of four characters, Soisson avoids biting off more than he can creatively chew. Still, no one will mistake this movie for its far superior Eastern cousin. Heck, it can’t even compare to the lesser efforts from the Japanese genre. Still, Soisson and company should be commended for trying to instill something new and novel into what is usually a staid and stereotypical conceit. Pulse 2 can’t avoid its origins, but at least it doesn’t destroy its celluloid ancestry.