Pulse is an independent low-fi body swap, science fiction movie that sees disabled teen Oliver/Olly (Daniel Monks) with gender identity issues given an opportunity to have physical and gender rebirth. This stunningly photographed debut feature from cinematographer turned director Stevie Cruz-Martin and writer/star Monks’ pair real drama with a fantastical projection for this 'on-demand' age.
Monks writing creates an authentic teen cohort, where interactions seem to grate intentionally. There's a charm to the ineloquence of the teenage experience. In some many ways, you expect that Monks' script would engage more directly with overcoming the disability. In others, it’s refreshing for the impossible to be as accessible as minor day surgery. Olly is treating his new body as a single serve soap, and it leaves a seriously bad taste in your mouth. Life altering decisions are dwarfed by the impossibility to see beyond this adolescent island.
Sian Ewers’ Nat and Isaro Kayitesi’s Britney are terrific as Olly’s supportive girlfriends. Ewers and Kayitesi are particularly great as they get a front row seat to Olly’s transition from binge drinking, teenage boy moving into the more delicate package of Jaimee Peasley’s Olivia. Caroline Brazier plays Olly’s mother Jacqui, an older woman enjoying the brief moments of Olly’s physical stability to get back on the dating scene. Brazier is buckling under the hulking emotional burden of watching her child suffer. When Olly chooses to make the switch, Brazier has the most conflicted and ambivalent relationship to the decision. Jacqui must come to terms with watching her impulsive son pilot a fragile daughter.
The physical realisation, as portrayed in the film, doesn't salve Olly’s emotional disquiet. The remaining tandem performance from Monks and Jaimee Peasley is a spiral out of control. Peasley's Olivia is essentially the meat puppet of the damaged and impulsive young man that her physical husk is housing. The ethics of commanding another body, right to Olly’s age-appropriate selfishness, is part of why it's so reflexively wrong. That ease that allows you to replace your vessel becomes all the more frightening because it happens without so much as a learners permit.
Director Stevie Cruz-Martin, who acts as the cinematographer is the greatest strength of “Pulse.” The ‘not too distant future’ labelling allows for Cruz-Martin to do away with large-scale effects. Olly is the centre of the universe of “Pulse” and as such crafts the world in a blur when it’s outside of his focus. There's a specific editorial choice to reflect Monks’ and Peasley’s symbiosis; making them interchangeable. In scenes where Peasley is driving the newly minted Olivia, Monks appears to disrupt this new vision actively. The transcendent moment in the film comes when Cruz-Martin uses a nightclub strobe effect to pair the mirroring layers of Olly and Olivia mid-dance.
Authentic and fearless portrayals of the consequences of natural gender fluidity and the yearning to be wholly able; paired with an exciting and innovative craft from a new filmmaker make Pulse worth a trip back to the worst memories of your high-school narcissism.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.