Pulse takes on a tried-and-true terrifying concept: what if you are on the road in the middle of the night, and find yourself in the clutches of a psychotic cult, with not even the long arm of the law to help you?
Madeleine Stowe is Senga Wilson, a middle-age woman with her fifteen-year old daughter, Nat, in the passenger seat beside her, on the road at night, alone. Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Who knows, but wherever it is, it seems like the highway they're traveling is full of weirdos. There's the couple taking pictures of a car accident. The creepy tow truck driver. The hick dude with the tattoos. The mesmerizing motivational speaker on the TV at the roadside diner. And the suicidal teen hitchhiker chick Senga's daughter invites for a ride. And there's also somehow a bizarre rendezvous with Nat's father (Senga's ex-husband) at a rest stop.
From there, all hell breaks loose. Senga and Nat get into a huge mother/daughter fight, and next thing we know, Nat is getting into an RV with some of the freakos Senga keeps seeing, before Senga can stop them. She chases the RV only after a police officer proves less than helpful.
Senga spends the remainder of the movie chasing down incredibly pretty cult members who love drugs, music, sex, and drinking blood—and who, within minutes flat, brainwash young, extremely level-headed Nat into thinking her mother is the root of all the evil in her life. And there's a young studly leader to this cult who seems to know everything about Senga and her daughter within a matter of hours. He knows a lot more than us because he tells us facts about her that the script failed to let us in on earlier. But is this all happening, or is it in Senga's mind? Because it is made clear to us that Senga pops some sort of pills and does a whole lot of hallucinating. Or is she hallucinating? Even if she is, she is CONSTANTLY being broken out of her spells by a ringing cellphone. There's an obsession with making the ring of a cellphone a jolting shock in this movie. It doesn't work. And neither does the movie. Somehow, Madeleine Stowe got herself involved in a movie that was hoping to be really cool, hip, sleek and edgy with a bunch of young people in it, but it just has no suspense, no scares, and few believable moments. If you want a real creepy tale about a highway battle with a cult, check out the oldie but goodie Race with the Devil, starring Peter Fonda and Loretta Switt (I'm not even kidding).
As bad as this movie is, the DVD quality is absolutely astounding. The film is presented in anamorphic aspect ratio of 2:35:1, so even with a widescreen television, you'll still see black bars on top and bottom. The picture quality itself is stunning. Colors are vibrant, blacks and shadows are dark and deep, the picture is sharp, and the print is virtually flawless.
The sound mixers here seem to have said to themselves, "hm…we have 5 channels available to us, what should we do with them? Hey, here's an idea. Let's USE them!" The 5.1 surround track is consistently exploited to excellent levels throughout the entire film. Incredible surround separation and booming bass are what you get from this DVD. You also have the option of 2.0 stereo, but why bother?
For starters, there are five trailers, and the option of turning on Spanish subtitles. Lastly, you get Cast & Crew Interviews. And this is a real laugh. With topic captions such as "Madeleine Stowe on why the film works," I watched mortified as she endlessly explained what a fabulous movie this is going to be (she and the other actors were interviewed on the set during the making of the film). Yet, she also kept reiterating how the movie did something different for this genre—it featured lots of young people. I have this funny feeling Madeleine was on the fence about that aspect. Either she was thinking this would be a box office smash because of that and her career might get a second wind, or she was thinking she was in the midst of making a really bad teen exploitation flick that, as the formula insists, must have a once hot, now cold "star" to attract box office receipts.
Pulse had such a chance to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller, because it's been a while since we've had a good movie about one person pitted against a killer cult. Unfortunately, it became a convoluted mess with no chills or thrills. Having said this, it's a shame that such a great DVD presentation was wasted on this film, because the picture and sound quality on this disc are both outstanding.