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Case Number 04659: Small Claims Court

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Pulse (2003)

First Look Pictures // 2003 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 23rd, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson was once sucked into a mind-altering cult, but was rescued, deprogrammed, and is now serving as a member of Martha Stewart's legal defense team.

The Charge

Second place winner in the "Most Generic Film Title" contest.

The Case

Parenting is not easy these days. In this age of overt materialism, violence-riddled video games, sex-drenched music videos, gang warfare, nitrate content in foods, meat-eating sea animals, acid rain, splinters from pressure-treated lumber, out-of-control bike messengers, earthquakes, alien abductions, shards of glass buried in tangerines, quicksand, overly enthusiastic dodge ball players, maniacal parakeets, The Man, paper cuts, combustible liquids, Doberman Pinschers, uncomfortable sandals, bad cell-phone reception, Communist propaganda, unruly hamsters, poisonous tree-frogs, quicksand, corporate malfeasance, short-circuiting desk fans, defective Hyundai Elantras, schoolyard belittling, day-old bagels, spelling quizzes, earthworms, Math teachers who hate life, tornadoes, mediocre summer TV schedules, pricker bushes, goose droppings, and quicksand, children face a wealth of obstacles in their lives.

Well, now you can add "depraved-kids-dancing-in-an-empty-gas-tanker-truck-cult" to the list.

Senga (Madeleine Stowe, 12 Monkeys), already on tenuous footing with her spitfire daughter Nat (Mischa Barton, The Sixth Sense), must now deal with a horrible new danger. Nat has been sucked into a deadly, mind-altering cult.

The two were on a road trip, and should have predicted bad things were in store for them; there was the weirdo couple taking pictures of a horrific accident scene, a savant of a tow truck driver always lurking near, and just a general dark, creepy atmosphere tailing them wherever they go.

Things get even creepier when the two meet a bizarre backpacker (Bijou Phillips, Almost Famous) who lures Nat into the clutches of the aforementioned cult. Faster than Senga can scream "Dr. Phil, where did I go wrong?!" she watches Nat walk into a camper, flanked by some cult members, and depart—headed toward the empty gas tanker of fun and dancing.

As Nat sinks deeper and deeper into the world of the cultists (a world comprised mainly of lounging around in skimpy clothing, lathering on copious amounts of eyeliner, and pretending to rave in front of a camera), Senga tracks them to their headquarters, apparently an automobile manufacturing plant.

There, aided by the weird little tow truck driver, Senga will face the leader of the cult, and only one will live to be reunited with her daughter…oops!

The movie succeeds in creating a stylish atmosphere. By that I mean it's dark. It's like 90% dark, when the scene doesn't shift to the interior of the rockin' cultist fun-wagon.

Pulse isn't really a nail-biter—a road movie yes, but an edge-of-your-seat experience, not so much. These days, I suppose it would be classified as a "psychological thriller," which I have come to interpret as "a boring, boring movie." The cultists never came across as anything but a throng of dopey losers. The head of the cult, aside form a fascination with drinking blood, played ball so late in the game he wasn't a very effective end villain.

Stowe as the committed mom basically does a lot of shouting and crying before discovering that recessive little bad-ass gene within her in the final act of the movie.

The disc incarnation I viewed had a widescreen presentation with a solid transfer, even despite the ever-present darkness, and a stereo mix, some previews, and nothing else.

Pulse is not awful. It's well made, grim, sprinkled with a few memorable characters (the tow-truck driver for one), and short. Despite its brevity, the movie doesn't fly by and the overall narrative drags. In road movie terms, it's like a Jaguar with a couple of flat tires. It looks nice, but doesn't really go anywhere.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: First Look Pictures
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Spanish
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Action
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Previews


• IMDb

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