My third stop on Jamie Bamber’s filmography is the horror movie Pulse 2: Afterlife. Since it is a sequel and the first film is based on a Japanese original, I had a different approach to it. First, I watched the Japanese original Kairo – Pulse from 2001, then the American adaptation Pulse from 2006 and then Pulse 2. So I will write a few lines about Kairo and Pulse before I review Pulse 2. I will also spoiler all three films.
In Kairo, the ghost realm is slowly taking over the realm of the living. With the help of the internet, more and more ghosts appear, and whoever encounters one of them, loses his will to live and either commits suicide or just dies. Ghosts also call living people via phone, the only thing they say is “help me, help me” in a very creepy voice. Only red tape, applied to one’s flat, for example at the door, seems to keep the ghosts away. In the end, only a few people survive.
Kairo isn’t really a horror movie, in my eyes. It has a lot of creepy moments, but it left me rather a bit confused. The characters have awkward relationships between each other, which is probably part of the creepiness. The environment of the characters, mostly their flats, change and resemble white marble tombs after they’ve seen the ghosts, but that doesn’t seem to matter to those who haven’t seen ghosts. The film also deals with topics like loneliness and alienation in urban societies with all this new technology.
The American adaptation of Pulse is of course the same story, but it visualizes more what Kairo only indicated: The environment and atmosphere is darker, and the ghosts look scarier and more evil. After people meet one of the ghosts, some black matter appears on their body, crawling under their skin until they commit suicide or just die.
Maybe this adaptation is about depression? I noticed the characters who meet a ghost often would say the following: they don’t have a will to live, they don’t want to talk anymore, they don’t want to do anything anymore, they want to die, etc. These resemble the symptoms of a depression, so perhaps Pulse also shows how it feels to have this mental illness. It is quite a pity that the movie isn’t going more into this topic, just like Kairo does with the topic of loneliness.
Pulse 2 shows how a family is affected by these ghosts. Michelle and Stephen get a divorce after she finds out that he is cheating on her. Devastated by the cheating and the divorce, Michelle seems to develop some kind of depression, which makes her unfit to look after their little daughter Justine, at least in Stephen’s eyes. This is also about the time when the ghosts begin to appear via internet, turning people into cyber ghosts. Stephen gets custody over Justine, and because Michelle has probably encountered one of the ghosts, and deprived of her will to live, she commits suicide. Already a ghost, but not being aware of it, she wants to kill her daughter before Stephen is able to take her with him. But her plan doesn’t work out, Justine manages to run away.
After some searching, Stephen finds his daughter and takes her with him to his remote cabin in the mountains where there are no internet connections. His girlfriend Marta arrives, but suddenly, Stephen’s laptop starts to work. He receives messages from his dead ex-wife, in which she wants him to give her daughter back. Michelle’s ghost appears and takes revenge on Marta, taking away her will to live.
Stephen escapes with Justine, driving around and trying to find a more remote area, or camps with other survivors. A young man, completely in red clothes, appears and kidnaps them with the car; he demands from Stephen to get into an electronic supply store and find him some device with which the man in red, apparently a hacker, wants to save the world or to end it earlier. Stephen does as he’s told, and as soon as the man has his device, he goes away.
At some point, Stephen’s car runs out of gas, and he and his daughter are forced to sleep in the car for one night. Despite the red tape around the car’s windows, Michelle is still after them and tries to make her Justine come with her. The very last moment, Stephen manages to bring her back into the car. Justine finally realizes that her mother will always come after her, and she also wants to be with her, understanding that her father was responsible for her misery. The two quarrel, until Stephen slaps Justine, for which he apologizes immediately.
The next day, a bus to a refugee camp is driving nearby to their car, completely taped in red. Stephen sends Justine into the bus, but stays outside to talk to Michelle who just appeared again. He begs his ex-wife to leave their daughter alone and to not punish her for what he did to his family. Offering himself for her revenge, Stephen tells her that he always loved her. Michelle passes on this opportunity, since she still loves him. Just when Stephen thinks that he and his daughter are safe now, Marta’s ghost shows up and takes his will to live. The film ends with Justine sitting in the bus to the camp.
Stephen, played by Jamie Bamber, is a rather confusing character. He’s not a bad guy and he tries to be a good father. Instead of trying to work out the problems with his wife Michelle, he escapes into an affair with Marta, a woman whom he can’t even stand and is a caricature of an arrogant bitch, but who still is good for sex – a fact that will cost him his life in the end. In the probably worst seduction scene I’ve ever witnessed, the movie suggests that Stephen was seduced by Marta, but that’s a rather bad excuse for his behavior in my opinion, since he also just uses her. He leaves his wife when she probably needed him the most, but when she also wasn’t able to satisfy his need for intimacy. At the end, Stephen says that he always loved her, but his actions make his love confession sound rather shallow, because he is not capable of facing his problems, but instead runs away from them and causes misery to everyone close to him. (And suddenly, this is Men Only all over again…)
Stephen’s (over)protectiveness makes him somewhat blind for his daughter’s feelings and needs, and I always had the impression that he was rather selfish about her. One explanation of this is that, of course, he and Justine are in an extreme situation.
Michelle (Georgina Rylance) is not just the poor victim in this story for me, at least not at the end. The film isn’t very clear about what kind of problems she and her husband have, only that Stephen is kind of ‘hostile’ and that she wants to go to family counseling, which he doesn’t agree to. Maybe she pushes him too hard?
Although the afterlife gives her a chance to take revenge on her ex-husband, it is Stephen’s girlfriend who does the job for her, after the two women become something like allies, since they both had to suffer due to Stephen’s incapability to handle his problems. After all, she gets her revenge, and Stephen can't be with his daughter anymore, despite the fact that she can't either.
Little Justine was the best thing in this story, not just the character, but also the child actress Karley Scott Collins. She is the most normal and rational character in this chaos, and despite her young age. In the terrible situation that she is in this movie, Stephen tries to keep everything bad away from her as good as possible, but Justine is way too perceptive for what went wrong with her mother and her father, and maybe she is stronger than he thought. Karley Scott Collins plays her very convincingly.
The worst thing about this movie is that 90% of it are filmed in front of a blue or green screen (I don’t know what they used) - and I could always see it. In a scene with Michelle and her aunt, I could see that the two actors are clearly not at the same place. Even the inside of Stephen’s cabin was blue-/green-screened, and sometimes the background was out of proportions compared to the actors and the props. Or the perspective was odd. That makes the movie look cheaper than any (western) TV production.
The only really nicely shot scenes are the ones with Stephen looking for the device in the electronic store. The darkness, the camera angle, the narrowness between the store aisles, the running… All this depicts Stephen’s anxiety, despair and his worry about his daughter in the hands of their kidnapper quite well. (Plus, I believe that, though a bit overdone, these scenes mirror the reality of almost every customer in a huge electronic store…) The special effects like the cyber ghosts or the black matter are decent, too.
In general, Pulse 2: Afterlife isn’t really recommendable. The characters are very superficial and/or too stereotype, and a bit more character insight would have been nice. The plot was also rather confusing. I wouldn’t mind that the movie was mostly filmed in this green/blue screen technique if the story would have been really good. The question that I had in my mind while watching this film: What does this drama about a family have to do with the original Pulse story? The only references to Pulse are the e-mails that Stephen receives from his dead wife, as well as this hacker in the red clothes who starts the film and keeps Stephen and Justine as hostages for a short time. The movie may have worked as a ghost story outside the Pulse universe. I liked the setting of a father and his daughter in a horror film which is a nice change to the usual “girl meets boy and they try to save the world”. But it would have been better if they would have kept everything paranormal out of it, it would have been more interesting to explore this simple drama of a family breaking apart. Though it is a sad one, I liked this tragic story, I liked the conflicts between the characters, I liked the characters (yes, even Marta at the end). All this would have been enough material for a film of its own, and it always felt like it was the right plot in the wrong film.