A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie is relentlessly dark, with a buzzing, spooky soundtrack: The grim music and noise hardly let up. It includes several deaths by grisly means: a college student hangs himself, while others are consumed by the machine-derived "ghost." All these deaths include screaming and shuddering, and are generally spooky and abstract. A couple of minor characters wield (but don't shoot) guns, demonstrating their desperation. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink; one of the girls sleeps with a guy she's just met at a bar. Some profanity, including one f-word, uttered in despair.
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What's the story?
A self-described "future shrink," Mattie (Kristen Bell, of Veronica Mars) is studying psych at an unnamed urban university. Worried that her boyfriend Josh (Jonathan Tucker) isn't returning her phone calls, she doesn't want to believe her best friend and roommate Izzie (Christina Milian) that she needs to "let go." Little does she know that he's been "consumed" by a ghost from a computer virus, a creepy grey sort of death force that seems to emerge from computers and make its victims so depressed that they kill themselves or dissolve into nothingness. The "virus," as TV reporters describe it, is soon worldwide, shutting down system after system, rendering users so pained and fearful, so "unlike themselves," that they're unable to resist the ghosts.
Is it any good?
Very dark and moody, PULSE imagines a dire near future for electronic communications. As college students become immersed in their devices -- cell phones, computers, PDAs -- they lose touch with each other, and so, literally, lose themselves. The problem of communication is at the center of Jim Sonzero's remake of the 2001 Japanese movie Kairo, and while this bad-machines theme is familiar, the execution is effectively ooky, with a persistent blueish light and buzzy soundtrack. The ghosts, it turns out, "want what they don't have, they want life." The film frames its horror as if the ghosts are so many Pinocchios, yearning for what seems inherently valuable to humans. Communication has turned consumptive.
While adults are ineffective (Mattie's smug therapist [Ron Rifkin] dismisses her concerns out of hand), a computer geek helps Mattie to find the webcam loop that affected Josh. It helps that Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) is very good looking, of course, but he's also clever and determined. He finds images of other dead souls, gazing forlornly from the computer screen, emblems of the future of non-communication.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the subjects of depression and suicide. How might the victims have been better able to cope with their psychic pain if they had communicated it with one another? They could talk about the metaphor of the ghosts: lonely, isolated people who literally disappear. They may also discuss the enduring popularity of horror movies and why young people in particular are so drawn to them.
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