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Movie Review

Frustrated when her boyfriend, Josh, doesn't return her calls, college coed Mattie Webber ventures over to his apartment one day to see if he's OK. He's not. In fact, shortly after Mattie arrives, Josh walks into a back room and inexplicably hangs himself.

Understandably, the traumatic event rattles Mattie, and her friends rally around her to assure her that it wasn't her fault. Yet as they're comforting her online one afternoon, a chat room user logs in under Josh's name and sends the cryptic message "Help me." After further investigation—and while the student body grows increasingly sparse—the group uncovers a webcam feed that appears to be connected to a series of local suicides. Meanwhile, with the help of computer whiz Dexter, Mattie finds out that Josh had stumbled onto an ever-expanding virus of ghoulish cyberfolk. Now it/they are after Mattie, her friends, Dexter and anyone else they can get their hands, er, virtual paws on.

Positive Elements

In the wake of Josh's suicide, Mattie's pals come to her aid, telling her, "We'll get through this." A campus psychology professor advises Mattie not to avoid her fears but face them to avoid greater destruction and pain. After finding her best friend beyond mortification, Mattie tries to comfort her. She also tells her mom that she loves her. Dexter shakes off Mattie's initial finger-pointing and helps her.

Spiritual Content

The film's nemeses are often demonic-looking ghosts that seem to be dead people reincarnated.

Sexual Content

Via flashbacks we see quick shots of Mattie and Josh in bed together. During one snippet, Mattie appears to be naked (she's shown from the shoulders up). The camera catches the same amount of skin as she takes a bath, and we also get a foggy-windowed glimpse of her in the shower. Mattie's looser roommate, Izzie, wakes up in bed with a one-night stand, and we see her in her underwear as she gets dressed. Likewise, Mattie strips down to her bra.

Mattie's friend mentions acquiring passwords to various Web sites, including ones listed under "horny coeds," "bondage" and "granny trannies." Izzie shows Mattie a picture of a nude man on her cell phone. (We only see his top half.) Both Izzie and Mattie reveal cleavage throughout the film; Izzie also wears midriff-bearing tops.

Violent Content

With extreme realism (thanks to the camera angle), a car crashes into Mattie and Dexter as they're driving, leaving both with a few minor scrapes. A frenzied ghoul smashes windows and causes mayhem as they continue down the road. A burning jetliner plummets to the ground, resulting in a massive explosion.

When Josh hangs himself, we see close-ups of his face and feet. It's inferred that a young man shown via webcam shoots himself. A paranoid man pulls a gun on Mattie and Dexter. Dexter shoves someone into a wall.

It's explained that once humans are taken over by the cyberghosts, they essentially have the life sucked out of them and are left with bruised frames. A few victims are shown in such a state, as the camera focuses on a black ink-like substance spreading through their bodies. One girl literally evaporates into innumerable computer bytes that look like ash. While not necessarily violent, virtually every depiction of the Web-based ghouls is jarring with the intent to startle viewers.

Crude or Profane Language

God's name gets misused half-a-dozen times, one of those in combination with "d--n." The f-word is spoken once, the s-word seven times. Another dozen-plus milder profanities are added to the mix (including "a--," "b--ch" and "pr--k").

Drug and Alcohol Content

Students drink beer in a bar, and there's a shot of another alcoholic drink being mixed. Dexter smokes cigarettes on a couple of occasions while also guzzling beer. The camera twice focuses on a pile of cigarettes butts and shows a student smoking. A girl comments to a strange man about him having "booze in [his] coffee."

Other Negative Elements

A student known for pirating DVDs and CDs tries to pitch new products to his peers. (They joke about him eventually being thrown in jail.) Mattie opens a closet door to find a mangled, infested cat bloodied and dying. She also finds maggots in Josh's refrigerator.

Conclusion

I remember watching The Ring a few years ago while traveling with some friends. I was genuinely scared not only by the well-executed story, but primarily with the haunting image of the ghoulish, water-drenched girl climbing out of a TV screen and toward her unsuspecting victim. At the time, the movie was one of the first to use a fast-forward, stuttering-frame effect to capture the freakish kinetic motion of a ghost clawing its way from the netherworld into three-dimensional existence.

Then came The Grudge, which employed a similar technique to stir up just as much fear. And then Boogeyman. And An American Haunting. And a host of films in between ... to the point that the once-creepy contrivance is now a virtual horror-movie staple. So what happens when what works the first time gets used over and over and over again? Audiences go numb as the laws of diminishing returns take their toll.

Enter Pulse, aka Ring-lite. Like that movie and The Grudge, it's based on a Japanese thriller—which, in this case, only adds to the hackneyed feel. Familiar methods. Familiar story line (we've now upgraded from VHS tapes to Wi-Fi connections). And to top off this poor man's mix, Pulse frequently fails to keep good ol' fashioned logic within the confines of its own tale. (Not that that's ever been a prerequisite for horror movies.)

While horror fans may be anesthetized by the onslaught of familiarity, I hope they still feel the prick of unnecessary content—namely Pulse's language, sex, violence and, well, horror that, while mild for the genre, still manages to crawl off the movie screen and toward unsuspecting victims. Producer Joel Soisson claims, "We learned a lot from the original film. The Japanese excel at restraint, even in horror." I guess that's either true or false depending on your definition of restraint.

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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