Dir: Jim Sonzero. US. 2006. 86mins.

The latest Americanisedremake in the still-burgeoning J-horror trend arrives in the form of thestrident and melodramatic Pulse, anonsensical thriller devoid of unified menace which quickly devolves into arather silly series of stylised, desultory jolts andartificial peril.

With its dogged,demo-focused television advertising campaign and an absence of head-to-headcompetition, Pulse may carve out apassable teen audience on opening weekend, especially with the move ofUniversal's college comedy Acceptedto August 18 giving the horror film a more open path to adolescent wallets. Butin the wake of strong, ongoing business for TalladegaNights and its own deadly word-of-mouth, Pulse will likely flicker out at the box office.

Nothing like thegrosses of similar fare The Ring or The Grudge ' the latter of whichbenefited from a comfortable pre-Halloween release date ' arewithin Pulse's grasp. Muted horrorfilm The Skeleton Key opened in asimilar time slot last year, to a $16 million bow en route to $48 million, butthat picture had the star power of Kate Hudson. Pulse's total will more likely be on par with Dark Water or Stay Alive,both of which eked out around $25 million domestically. Similarly, the movieshould find better returns among genre aficionados on DVD and in ancillarymarkets.

The film's storycenters around a group of college co-eds whose computer hacker friend Josh(Jonathan Tucker) goes catatonic and seemingly kills himself after accidentallychanneling a mysterious wireless signal through his computer. His girlfriendMattie (Kristen Bell), present at his apartment during his death, isunderstandably devastated.

But strangethings start happening, beginning with an email from beyond the grave from Josh,pleading with his friends ' including Isabel (Christina Milian),Stone (Rick Gonzalez) and Tim (Samm Levine) ' forhelp. Soon it's clear that various wireless portals ' computers, cell phonesand the like ' are all serving as open gateways to a spirit world whoseinhabitants suck the very will to live from all those they come across.

It's ultimatelyup to Mattie and Dexter (Ian Somerhalder), a mechanicwho purchased Josh's computer and gets sucked into the proceedings afterwitnessing a morbid loop of lost souls on said unit, to try to make sense ofthe happenings and make contact with a hermetic computer guru with whom Joshwas trying to get in touch with prior to his death.

Drained of the serialised disconnection of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's originalfilm Kairo,Pulse comes across, ironically, asboth slapdash and recombinant. The focus of tight-knit peril awkwardly attemptsto open up into something broader, mid-movie. Stalwart genre hound Brad Dourif pops up in a random cameo that begets some giggling,but his appearance is arguably the tamest of a collection of third act bitplayers that seem ripped, tonally, from a different film.

The most damningproblem, though, is Pulse's completelack of interior logic. We grasp that some sort of virus has been loosed, andsee the ghoulish physical manifestations of a passageway opened, but its stakesor scale are never really clear.

While variousgenre touchstones ' flickering fluorescent lights, a bathtub scare, a spookylaundry room ' are gamely trotted out in goosing set pieces of variableeffectiveness, they exist independent of any cogent narrative momentum. With noconcrete rules of either engagement or destruction, there's little to nil withwhich to connect, and the phenomenon's late, presumably global spread thus comesoff as derisible, both in hypothesis and execution.

From a technicalpoint of view, a few of Elia Cmiral'smusical compositions trade in interesting, distorted undercurrents.Cinematographer Mark Plummer (known chiefly for sporadic indiefare like Albino Alligator and The Waterdance),meanwhile, gets a chance to work in different palettes, and offers up someinteresting looks, particularly as the film wears on. One sequence late takesplace in a room masked completely by red tape, and the frames of anotherpanicked escape sequence seem almost mercury-dipped, so silver-hued are they.

In making theleap to features from television, VeronicaMars' Kristen Bell keeps her head down and does all she can to acquitherself, but cannot escape the general witlessness of the script, in what willcertainly not be a big screen commercial beachhead.

Dimension Films
The Weinstein Company

US distribution

The WeinsteinCompany

Daniel S. Levine
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein

Michael Leahy
Joel Soisson

Wes Craven
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
based on Kurosawa's Kairo

Mark Plummer

Production design
Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini

Gary B Matteson

Marc Jakubowicz
Robert K Lambert

Bob Mori
Kirk M Morri

Elia Cmiral

Main cast
Kristen Bell
Ian Somerhalder
Christina Milian
Jonathan Tucker
Rick Gonzalez
Samm Levine
Ron Rifkin
Kel O'Neill
Zach Grenier
Joseph Gatt
Brad Dourif