Thoughts on “Pulse”

This is the last of the horror movies in that 11 movie pack I’ve been talking about for a while (the last two are sci-fi/fantasy movies).  It features a child-star performance by Joey Lawrence, best known for “Blossom” or to younger viewers perhaps for “Melissa and Joey”.   And his performance is one of the best things about the movie.

The main plot is that a young boy goes to stay for at least part of the summer with his dad and new stepmother after a divorce, with all the attendant awkwardness that would entail.  At the same time, it seems that there’s some kind of strange thing happening with the electricity, as at the start of the movie it burns down the neighbour’s house and soon starts causing strange things to happen in his house.  So the boy needs to try to convince his family that there’s an issue before it kills them all.

The performances in this movie are excellent.  As mentioned above, Joey Lawrence does a great job as the boy, making us feel for him and want to see him succeed in staying alive.  The mother also works really well as someone who ends up having to look after him since his father is working most of the time, but who grows to care for him and shows the most empathy for him, and so ends up being the first one to really believe him when he talks about the issues with the electricity.  And the father works fairly well as someone who wants his kid to be there so he can connect with him, but at first lets his work get in the way and then is frustrated with his child growing more and more despondent and frightened and getting more and more desperate to just leave, and finally when his wife is killed by the electricity coming to realize that his son is telling the truth and going to great lengths to save him and cut off the power at the end.

The movie, however, is brought down by its supernatural horror.  Electricity is, obviously, an inanimate force, and in general if you’re going to make a supernatural menace out of an inanimate force or object you need to instead make the force intelligent and malevolent.  Technically, they do that with the electricity here, since it seems to be targeting people and also seems to kill for no reason.  However, that “for no reason” ends up killing the movie, because we never get a sense of what the titular “Pulse” is, what it wants, or where it came from.  Ultimately, the electricity seems to kill just because it wants to, but only one family at a time and only in that one town (or maybe another) for some reason.  Where did it come from?  Is all electricity intelligent?  Does it want anything?  All of these questions and many more are completely ignored by the movie.  The electricity is not merely a force of nature that the heroes are trying to get out of the way of, nor is it a dedicated killer with a purpose, nor is it an indiscriminate killer.  It targets people, but we never learn why.  So we merely have a force that kills things, and since it’s supposed to be driving the horror we find ourselves more puzzled and bored by its antics than scared by it.

I suspect that the motivation here was to try to tie the horror to something that was both ubiquitous in society and something that many people were afraid of.  That way the movie could tie into that subconscious fear to make it more frightening, but the key term there is subconscious.  In this movie, that subtext completely becomes the text and that takes away from that subconscious fear.  We treat the electricity as an actual villain, but it doesn’t have a purpose that ties into the subconscious fear or provides a conscious fear that the subconscious fear can play off of.  So it misses in trying to play off of our fear of electricity, and doesn’t provide us with anything else to really be afraid of.

I think the performances are excellent, but the lackluster horror villain really hurts this move.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again.


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