Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see in cinema, something unique and interesting comes along. That’s very much the case with ‘Pulse’, a new independent Australian film with an ambitious story.
Olly (Daniel Monks) faces the wrath of his school’s bullies not just because of his disability, but also his sexuality. Nevertheless, his best friends, Luke (Scott Lee, ‘Home and Away’) and Nat (Sian Ewers, ‘The Great Mint Swindle’), are there to support him. When Olly gets the chance to undergo a radical new treatment which involves a body transplant, he chooses to inhabit the body of a beautiful young woman. However, it’s not long before Olly’s new appearance affects his personality, and he soon becomes an entirely different person that his family and friends can no longer recognise.
Despite the body swap concept, this story is firmly rooted in reality; as such, the whole procedure is viewed as a medical procedure which keeps the story within the drama genre, and ensures the focus of the film remains on the motivations for the change rather than the methodology. Olly’s disability makes him desperate for a change, but like with so many grass-is-greener stories, it doesn’t make his life better becoming a beautiful female, particularly when he does it for all the wrong reasons. The story emphasises the fact that beauty is only skin deep, cleverly using the filmic technique of showing male Olly in many scenarios where his outward appearance is the female Olivia.
The film is the brainchild of Daniel Monks himself, who has a physical disability. As writer, lead actor and editor, he has clearly brought a lot of himself into the story, one which is clearly important for him to tell, having started writing it in 2009. You’re able to empathise with the character of Olly, but upon becoming Olivia this is more challenging - this is vital to the story, and yet does make the latter portion of the film difficult to stay with.
There’s an ease to the relationships on camera here.
There’s an ease to the relationships on camera here; the interaction between Monks, Lee and Ewers appears as genuine friendship, and Ewers particularly is ineffable. Another effortless performance comes from Caroline Brazier (‘Rake’, ‘Packed to the Rafters’), who plays Olly’s mum, clearly out of her depth with the situation she finds herself in, despite the love she feels for Olly and lack of understanding she receives in return.
This is the feature directorial debut from Stevie Cruz-Martin, a long-time collaborator of Monks’. Also acting as cinematographer, she offers some ambitious techniques for a low-budget film, with the film shot with such a narrow depth of focus. While regularly effective, there are times this becomes distracting and unnecessary.
For a film with so much ambition, the final product must be commended. While there are aspects that aren’t entirely successful, losing affinity for the main character for such a substantial part of the film may be its downfall. Nonetheless, it shows great promise from Monks, Cruz-Martin and the young team, with important messages to impart.