Film Review: Pulse

Review by Dash Wilson.

There is much recent debate as to why female directors are such a minority in the film industry today. Since the first Academy Awards in 1929 only four women have ever been nominated for ‘Best Director’. Only one (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker) has ever won it. More surprisingly, as of 2017, not only has no woman ever won ‘Best Cinematography’ but no woman has ever even been nominated!

With this startling gender disparity in mind, Pulse is the independent Australian debut feature from new (and talented) female Director/Cinematographer Stevie Cruz-Martin currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival (7-18 June).

Based on an original screenplay by twenty-year-old Daniel Monks (who also stars), Pulse tells the story of Olly (Monks), a disabled teenage boy who is devastated when he is neglected after his two best friends Luke and Nat (Scott Lee & Sian Ewers) start dating. In order to find acceptance and love, Olly morphs into the body of a beautiful woman with the belief that in doing so he too will find happiness.

Seven years in the making and shot in picturesque Western Australia, Pulse has clearly been a passion project for Monks and Cruz-Martin. Whilst many films have dealt with teenage angst and identity to great success (The Perks of being a Wallflower, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls and many, many more), few films have ever dealt with the subject of being a teenager who has a disability and also happens to be gay.

Firstly, it should be said that for such a low budget, independent feature, this film looks fantastic. There is an effective use of close ups and colour, and the lighting in the scenes in the nightclub and hospital are done particularly well. The performances, particularly Caroline Brazier as Olly’s mother, are all solid and everyone tries really hard. The main issue with the film however is exactly that – it feels a little stereotypical and quite over the top at times and there are some scenes that are almost laugh out loud funny instead of being quietly affecting. Unfortunately, the whole ‘body switching’ narrative just wasn’t believable. Olly is a really interesting and layered character but by choosing a narrative arc that is pretty implausible makes the film loses some of its emotional resonance.

With that being said however, Pulse is without doubt, a brave, and ultimately unique film that has widely universal themes. It is a film that addresses the issue of how much our bodies shape who we are and where we draw the line between compromising and changing yourself in order to be loved. And ultimately that true happiness only comes from being who you really are, no matter how painful or unpopular that may be.

While Pulse probably won’t win any Oscars, it is still an impressive feature debut by its female director/cinematographer. Given the right script, it will be very interesting to see what Cruz-Martin does next.

Reviewed at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival (SFF).

By Dash Wilson.

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