Have you ever gone into a movie expecting the worst and then been pleasantly surprised? Started a movie with the certainty that it was going to suck only to be proved wrong? Feels good doesn’t it?
This is not one of those times.
The opening screen of Pulse 3 tells us it’s “the beginning of the end” and introduces a young couple, Ben (Rider Strong) and Salwa (Noureen DeWulf). And yes, seeing the kid from “Boy Meets World” without his shirt is the scariest thing on display in this movie. The rooms of their respective apartments, his in Houston, hers in India, all contain monitors with live video feeds of the other’s home. Do they have wild, virtual sex? No. They chat until he goes to bed, and while he sleeps, Salwa falls under the influence of the virus introduced in the original film. Which means of course that Ben awakes to find his long-distance lover jumping to her death from a rooftop. And we jump seven years forward to…
Justine, a moody seventeen year-old played by Brittany Finamore (doing her best Kristen Stewart impersonation), is sitting in class learning how technology almost killed all of humanity and the Amish had it right all along. Finamore represents the first step up from Pulse 2, which starred Jamie Bamber from “Battlestar Galactica.” He’s a dude, she’s a relatively cute (and underage) girl. (I never said it was a big step up.) Justine lives in a refugee camp in West Texas, where electronics are outlawed and food is rationed. She comes across a discarded laptop that somehow survived seven years outside in the elements, and precocious teen that she is, she hooks it up to a generator and turns it on… which is exactly how the trouble started in Pulse 2. She immediately starts IM’ing with Ben, who says he’s in Houston, who avoids direct questions with indirect answers, who implores her to come to the city… so Justine sets off for Houston on foot. Luckily, West Texas is apparently littered with Starbucks as the laptop wi-fi signal continues to work all across the wasteland. After a brief foray into Black Snake Moan territory where she’s chained to a radiator by an older black man (the second improvement over Pulse 2), Justine finally makes it to Houston.
And I’m stopping right there. Not because the plot isn’t interesting (it isn’t). Not because it’s worth experiencing for yourself (it’s not). And not because I promised to be kinder during the holidays (I didn’t). I’m stopping because Pulse 3 is painful to watch.
Like it’s predecessor, more than half of Pulse 3 features scenes filmed against green screens. It looks like a goddamn Wing Commander game from the mid-nineties. As annoying as that is, and trust me that it’s incredibly annoying, it’s made that much more frustrating when you see the next scene actually filmed live on location. There are mid-scene edits that alternate between the location and the green screen, and it’s as obvious as having a cell phone shoved up your ass each and every time. When you’re not bleeding out the eyes from the green screen, you’re wondering where the hell all the scary ghosts and ghastly deaths are. Two people get killed. Two. Random apparitions wander the streets in all their black & white glory, but only two attack and kill people. And at the film’s conclusion, absolutely nothing of importance happens that wouldn’t have happened without Justine’s green screen road trip.
Writer/director Joel Soisson has made a career out of DVD sequels to “successful” horror/fantasy films. The list of franchises he’s masturbated into include Hellraiser, Children of the Corn, Dracula, Mimic, The Prophecy, Hollow Man, Maniac Cop, and Highlander. Searching for something positive to say about him I’ve come up with two… he produced the fun and original horror film Feast, and he seems like a really nice guy.
The DVD’s behind the scenes feature includes several interesting (read entertaining) insights into the film’s production… Soisson was inspired by Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” shows, featuring teens enticed by strangers online. Impressively, in the transition from live predators to dead ones he somehow managed to make them less threatening. Production designer Ermanno di Febo Orsini shares how his work is “highly stylized with no style at all.” You won’t find yourself arguing with him. And Soisson also discusses that what holds his post-apocalyptic vision apart from most others is the inclusion of a blues guitarist. Really.
Pulse 3 releases today, December 23rd, on DVD from Dimension Extreme. The DVD Special Features are pretty limited, consisting only of a fully loaded commentary track (although with only four contributors it’s still less busy than the epic commentary on Pulse 2) and the hilarious Making-Of mentioned above.
The Upside: the Pulse movies are supposedly a trilogy, so…
The Downside: Green screens used in over half the movie; the ghosts only kill TWO people; ghosts that look like static-filled TV images aren’t scary; nothing of consequence happens; Rider Strong; the Pulse movies are supposedly a trilogy, but you know these motherfuckers will milk this direct-to-DVD series until the apocalypse