Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vamp or Not? Pulse


This 2003 film was originally called Octane but was released under the title Pulse so that people didn’t think it was a car racing type film. It was directed by Marcus Adams and, I have to say, it is almost Lynchian… almost. It is an odd, surreal flick that involves a cult that does like the odd bit of blood and it is almost genius. Somewhere on route it loses its way and, whilst watchable, never scales the heights it should have. This should be a film mentioned in the same breath as, say, Lost Highway. It isn’t.

I mentioned the blood drinking cult and I was attracted to this because of it. However it is almost incidental – in a way – due to the fact that the concept is glossed over and so taken for granted that it is almost ignored right through to almost the end and so I decided that ‘Vamp or Not?’ was the way forward with this as it contained some (potentially) faux-supernatural elements also.

It begins with an eye and then blood on it. It is a car crash, the car is overturned and the man cannot feel his legs. We hear paramedics, the other person in the car has been thrown clear but is dead, they talk to the man and give him something for the pain but, as more lights and sirens approach, they cover his mouth with tape, drag him out of the car and race off into the night.

Nat and SengaSenga (Madeleine Stowe) and her daughter Nat (Mischa Barton) are driving the six hours from Nat’s father’s home. It is clear, as the film progresses, that Senga has problems. She seems addicted to prescription pills, she is bitter regarding her husband, she has work problems and is overly protective of her daughter but in a way that smothers and comes across, to the girl, as unloving. On the other hand Nat also comes across as spoilt, she manipulates her parents for her own ends and shows her mother no respect. Despite the flaws of the two characters, or perhaps because of them, they become excellent focal points for the film.

The world around them, on the midnight highway, becomes rather surreal. They pass by the crash, with traffic being controlled by a cop (Jenny Jules). There are a vacationing couple (Gary Parker and Amber Batty) taking pictures of the wreck (and Senga as she passes). Further down the highway Senga starts falling asleep at the wheel and wakes to swerve around a baby on the highway, which turns out to be a doll. They stop in a rest stop and many of the weird folks are in there.

a motivational speaker haunts herSenga sees a motivational speaker (Martin McDougall) on TV who seems to speak to her directly, then suddenly basketball is on again and it all serves to create an odd dreamscape with just a tinge of nightmare. Outside it appears that Nat has offered a lift to a hitchhiker (Bijou Phillips, who was in Hostel Part 2), a girl who claims to have just returned from India and plays them some really hypnotic, trance type music. They eventually drop her off (she leaves her CD) and then Nat gets a call from her dad (Samuel Fröler) – he forgot to give Nat her birthday present.

They end up waiting at the next rest stop for him, but the present is tickets to a festival that Senga had refused Nat permission to go to. He leaves, the tickets get ripped up and Nat storms off. We see her getting in an RV with the holiday couple and the backpacker and drive away before Senga can get to them. In a state, Senga speaks to a cop – the one who directed traffic – who says she will go after them but Senga decides to follow her, sees her meet up with them and discovers that she is involved in the conspiracy and a false cop. She breaks into the RV and inside are tapes of girls – one she watches depicts a girl called Christine (Sarah Drews) – and flasks of blood, as well as false ids, paramedic uniforms and other such paraphernalia.

party in the tankerWe then enter a nightmarish thriller where everyone seems to be conspiring against Senga as she tries to find her daughter. Nat, in the meantime, is partying in the converted tank area of a tanker with the hitchhiker and a joyrider (Leo Gregory, later in Perfect Creature) both of whom speak about the man who ‘set them free’ the leader of their cult known as the father (Jonathon Rhys Meyers). For her trouble Senga is forced off the road, where she meets her only ally.

mechanical blood drainingThe ally is a tow-truck man (Norman Reedus, who was in Blade 2), though Senga doesn’t realise it and thinks he is part of the group that have taken her daughter. She cannot convince the real police, not helped by the fact that they phone Nat’s father and he is, by then, dead and the Father has his cell phone and tells them that Senga is delusional. So far not very vampiric, there are flasks of blood and a cult of personality. However, in the end, we discover a lot more, beyond the mechanical blood draining we later see.

Christine, out of controlTow-Truck Man is using Nat and Senga to track the cult. They took his sister (Christine) and made her a creature whose only purpose was to kill for blood. He makes it very much sound that they are completely changed by the actions of the Father and that he felt he had no choice but to kill her and put her out of her misery – very much a Van Helsing-esque act except he used a bomb rather than a stake. But there are other reasons this is very much of the vampire genre and that all centres around the Father.

seducing with bloodHe is in the process of seducing Nat, in a car factory that they have taken over and killed all the security in, and part of the seduction involves cutting his tongue with a razor and getting her to drink of his blood. This is prevented by Senga but his subsequent taunting of her as she tries to get away indicates aspects that he could not have known, one feels.

Senga, mesmerised?One thing he does do is tell Nat that Senga was going to abort her – and tells Senga that this is when she let him in. Putting aside that this suddenly pro-life thread appeared (her sin of contemplating/attempting abortion let the evil in), which had no place in the film and also seemed an odd dialogue choice for a character who represented hedonism, we wonder how he knew? He actually also seems to mesmerise Senga and give her a replacement child – a crash test dummy – and seems to transform into the motivational speaker for Senga also.

biting his face offHe is killed by fire (kind of, it’s by bomb) that the tow-truck guy has in his jacket, detonated by Senga, when the Father is biting tow-truck guy’s face off. The entire scene looks incredibly vampiric. There is also the age of the Father, despite his patriarchal name and his control over others he is very young, a nod towards being eternally young? The ending at first seems saccharine, with Senga and Nat driving off together but then we see a car with blacked out windows going past Nat as she waits in a gas station. The windows open and, whilst we don’t see the occupant, Nat is clearly scared. The camera focuses on a razor blade hanging in Senga’s car that is identical to the Father’s.

is the father under Nat's skin?Does this indicate that he survived being blown up and is still out there? The film ends at this point and it has been a strange and tense ride (or at least tense when it concentrated on the excellent Madeline Stowe). The film takes elements of the traditional vampire genre and weaves them into this, the sharing of blood to seduce/turn, preying on people for their blood, hypnosis and even (given the way they pose as cops and paramedics, as well as the Father becoming the motivational speaker) shapeshifting. There is a hint of eternal life and certainly an indication of mind reading. It’s a pity the film didn’t pull all this together as well as it could of but it was still an interesting watch and should be classed as Vamp.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Taliesin. I'd no idea that Madeline Stowe and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers were together in the same movie, and a vamp one at that!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Nicole, no problem... bear in mind that it isn't the standard undead vamp, however, though it has - as I said - many of the elements in there.

Zahir Blue said...

Interesting! Thanks for the review!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no problem Zahir