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Tarryn Wyngaard in Pulse.
Tarryn Wyngaard in Pulse.
Photo: Christopher Laurenz






1/5 Stars


A group of video game developers become trapped in a real-world version of their own creation when they’re cornered in their high-rise office building by a madman who just wants to play.


As a horror super fan, I have been very excited about the slow trickle of scary films and shows coming out of South Africa - a long-neglected genre in our industry. Showmax has had a hand in giving it a worthwhile boost, taking some chances and providing a platform and audience for projects that's only been available on festival circuits. Pulse is its latest horror offering, incorporating another neglected genre - sci-fi - into the mix, and I guess for a genre to really flourish, you also have to be willing to shoulder its duds.

Pulse appears to have a simple-enough premise - a group of game developers rebooting their popular horror survival game gets stuck in their own creation. With the help of a mysterious janitor, they must fight for survival after a supposed 'pulse bomb' fries not only all the electronics in their building but also people's brains.

And that's about all I've figured out about this show. The sheer confusion I had in the first three episodes had nothing to do about building suspense and everything to do with incredibly bad and convoluted writing. Story beats were non-existent, the plot rather just a string of actions that had little relevance to the previous string of actions. At best, this could have been a bad funny cult film, but pulling a six-episode series out of this labyrinthine mess was just plain rude.

At one point, I was convinced people were speaking in tongues, so I put on the subtitles to make sure it wasn't bad sound audio that made it impossible to follow what was happening in the dialogue. It still didn't make much sense, and only after the fourth episode did I 'learn' the language mechanics enough to follow some semblance of a plot. The writer was trying to be poetic and meta at the same time, mixing in some weird game slang that doesn't exist (and readers, I game, I consume game content, and whatever this was, no real gamer was involved here). Throw in the nonsense of a Lewis Carol fever dream, and you've lost your horror audience completely with high-brow pseudo-intellectualism that serves no one but the ego of the filmmakers.

What I really need to know is how the cast managed to get through this script with a straight face. Sven Ruygrok - playing a janitor with a hero complex and a secret to hide - and Caren Nel - the madman Eddie from security that acts as a catalyst for what I assumed were twists - really tried too hard to make something with their roles, but it was just wasted within schizophrenic editing and bad story. Tarryn Wyngaard played the lead character Jaz, and her terribly fake American accent and severely underexplained Wonderland Syndrome - which at some point randomly turns into Cotard's Syndrome (???) - provided an incoherent performance mixed in with bad directing. As for Thapelo Mokoena went from a zero to a hundred as soon as the pulse bomb hit, giving no room for any type of character development. Mokoena was clearly in a different movie to the rest, took an odd approach to playing a psychopath and, well, I can commend him for sticking to this choice the whole way through. As for our hypochondriac Caspar, played by Earl Wan, he was a little more restrained in his performance, giving much more space for more structured character development than others.

On a side note - the scene where Ruygrok and Wyngaard were being suffocated by plastic wrap was chilling, and I hope you both are okay because that looked way too traumatic an ordeal to go through for such a mediocre show. It's not a good look when the most horror element in your series is where the audience is worried about the wellbeing of your cast.

From bad plot to incoherent dialogue to directionless acting, we move on to set design. As Eddie REPEATEDLY mentions in his meta monologues, environment is key to building horror and suspense, especially the characters' interactions with it. The set designers really did take this to heart and tried with what I can assume was limited resources to bring the mad filmmakers' vision to life, but unfortunately, the 'horror' element was few and far in between, the side characters more like clowns than demented zombies and little to no buildup that gave justice to the work put into it.

After I had to force myself through the painful absurdity of this show, Pulse just left me angry at the wasted time and the level of quality that's not on par with the current standard of South African productions. We have so much culture and history to draw on when it comes to creating stories for the horror genre, and we have the talent to pull it off. Compared to something like a Fried Barry - a psychedelic horror that pushed the genre to its limits but still retained a decent level of quality - this was really not the best we can deliver. At best, I would like to think of Pulse as an experiment that did not work out, and there's an argument for that, but when it turns out to be one of the worst shows I have seen in a long time without it being unironically funny, I wonder if it was really worth it.


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