Pulse (August 4/04)
Well, if nothing else, Pulse proves that director Marcus Adams deserves a heck of a lot better than this. Adams' distinct sense of style proves to be the only intriguing aspect of the film, and it's clear the guy's got talent. But the storyline, involving a crazy cult and their charismatic leader, is tired beyond belief - to the extent that all the fancy camerawork in the world can't save it.
Pulse stars Madeleine Stowe as Senga Wilson, who - as the film opens - is driving her daughter Natasha (Mischa Barton) home from a visit with her ex-husband. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the two don't exactly get along, with Natasha upset over not being able to attend a music festival. Not helping matters is Senga's questionable mental state, causing her to see things that aren't actually there (ie a sleazy television host begins talking directly to her). But when Natasha is coerced into hooking up with a band of bizarre cult members, Senga must take matters into her own hands and rescue her daughter.
It's hard not to wonder how Adams was able to wrangle such an impressive cast (aside from Stowe and Barton, the film also features appearances from Bijou Phillips and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), as the film's storyline is hopelessly convoluted and dull. Volk presents us with a bloodthirsty (literally!) cult that seems like it'd be more at home in a Roger Corman flick (and not one of those good ones directed by Ron Howard or Martin Scorsese, either), and the whole is-Senga-crazy-or-isn't-she subplot is completely ludicrous. Adams seems to be having a lot of fun playing with our perception of what's real and what isn't, but he takes it way too far; there comes a point where it becomes impossible to root for either Senga or Natasha, primarily because Adams raises so much doubt as to whether any of this is even happening.
The performances are fine, with Stowe effectively embodying a woman experiencing a serious downward spiral, but they're secondary to Adams' overcranked directorial choices - the majority of which would've been far more effective in a better movie. But even if you're able to follow the film's confusing storyline, there's still Stowe's unappealing central character to contend with. The bottom line is that Pulse is unpleasant almost from the word go, though Adams does hold enough promise to hope that he'll choose his next project more carefully.