Film Reviews

Pulse (1988) – Blu-ray Review

Warning: spoilers, including a reveal of the ending!

In a world where we’re so used to technology, where it’s so much a part of our everyday lives that we probably don’t even think about it too much, we don’t stop to consider that there was a time where having a microwave in the home might be a cause for worry, or where a VHS player was a strange box with unknowable workings. Yet this is the world in which Pulse lives, one where technology was new, and in some ways scary.

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The film follows David (Joey Lawrence), a kid who’s moved to California to spend some time with his father and his new girlfriend. He’s leaving behind his mother and his quiet rural life in exchange for the big city, a place where there are bars on the windows and the neighbour kids are just kind of mean. Shortly before he arrives the neighbourhood is rocked by a strange event when one of the neighbours smashed up the inside of his house, before being killed by a live electrical cable.

However, David soon comes to believe that there is something inside the man’s home, something that lives inside the electrical systems and moves from appliance to appliance, something that wants to kill David and his family. Now he has to try and get people to believe the unbelievable, and try to survive in a world where every piece of technology around him could be trying to take his life.

There’s not much explanation for what’s really going on in Pulse, the identity of this mysterious force is never really explained, and the only real origin that gets suggested is towards the start of the film when a strange bolt of electricity lands, but even then this doesn’t really clear much up. Is this some kind of alien entity? An escaped experiment? A ghost that lives in the wires? We don’t know, and it seems like writer/director Paul Golding doesn’t care to know either.

The reasons behind what we’re watching don’t matter though; this isn’t a story about a creature or entity terrorising this family, it’s more a story about how a family copes when under a strange threat. We get to see how all three members of this family learn about this thing, and how it affects them. David believes it straight away, and is the voice crying out to be listened to, Ellen (Roxanne Hart) is in denial at first but once she believes it is the one who’s most afraid and quickly finds herself at the end of her rope, and there’s Bill (Cliff De Young) who denies it right until the end, until the point where he’s presented with irrefutable proof and has to believe. The film spends its focus with these three, and takes an interest in the slow torment of the family and watches how they react.

It surprised me how much the film was about the family and their emotional breakdown. I was expecting a film that would be focusing on the ‘evils of technology’, like similar films from the time where technology causes havoc, yet it never seemed to be taking the stance that technology is bad. It never felt preachy or trying to push a message, and I could see the story working in a very similar way if the terrorising presence was using some other means to harm the family.

Despite being interesting, the film never wowed me, mainly due to the fact that nothing much really happened. There’s a death at the very start of the film, and no one else dies after this. The possibility of these elaborate deathtraps, similar to Final Destination, never really came to be, and the moments where the house turned on the family were pretty lacklustre until the big finale. There’s very little sense of tension, and the film didn’t really build on suspense. By the time stuff starts to happen at the end of the film it comes more as a relief because you’ve been sitting waiting for more than an hour.

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The disc is fairly light on content too, with a trailer and video essay to watch through, as well as an audio commentary from author and film historian Amanda Reyes. The commentary is pretty interesting, and offers some good insight into the film, not just from a production point of view, but one that comes with a lot of historical context too.

Pulse has gained a cult following over the years, and if you’re a fan of the movie this new release will be really up your alley. If you’re coming to this having never seen it before, you might not be completely entertained by this slow, and strange horror story.

Pulse is out on Blu-ray on 22nd February from Eureka Entertainment.

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