At the birth of the ‘90s, Hollywood capitalized on yuppie fear with a wave of films depicting young urban professionals preyed upon by nefarious strangers. Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Pacific Heights and Bad Influence, among others, added a touch of horror to thirtysomething’s melodrama, creating an uptight, WASP-y version of grindhouse exploitation revenge cinema: The Yuppie Fear Thriller. For a moment, studios captured the uncertainty of the coming post-Cold War decade under George HW Bush and mirrored it back on us with sadistic delight. Then Bill Clinton took office, slackers took over and hair metal died with the paranoia of the previous decade. In his most recent motion picture, director Damon Packard (Reflections of Evil, SpaceDisco One, Foxfur) taps into that brief period with his signature humor and weirdness.
If you’ve never seen a Damon Packard movie, brace yourself. Throw away linear chronology and all your preconceptions about storytelling. Expect a lot of yelling, post-production effects and actors playing celebrities. Embrace conspiracy theory on all levels. Archival footage becomes a character. It’s like dropping acid after eating mushrooms and watching David Lynch, Jean-Luc Goddard, and Melvin Van Peebles movies while reading William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace. His films stand alone in their own genre – unclassifiable, unapologetic and, for some, unwatchable.
“…Los Angeles Riots deconstruct the narrative into a final explosive paranoid frenzy.”
Night Pulse (aka Fatal Pulse, aka Untitled Yuppie Fear Thriller) exists in the universe Packard has maintained for twenty years. In the early ‘90s, Trent Dupont (Mike Hickey), a powerful corporate mogul with deep worldwide connections, lives with his wife Tessa (Marika Jett Hickey) in Los Angeles. They’ve become shut-ins, mostly due to the presence of Tobo (John Bekolay), a relative who has crashed in their house for four years. (Tobo acts as a metaphor for the lingering ‘80s with his penchant for slasher-stalking women while he’s not glued to the TV.) All the most powerful people of the world revolve around Trent, ultimately revealing an Illuminati takeover of the music and movie industries that involves Sade, Rush, Kim Fowley, Bono, William Friedkin, Julia Roberts and many others. Eventually, the Los Angeles Riots deconstruct the narrative into a final explosive paranoid frenzy.
Packard rises to the top of his game here with his best film to date. His visuals draw heavily from Dario Argento’s exaggerated colors in Suspiria (1977), adding atmosphere to Tobo’s murder scenes. Chase sequences erupt from nowhere and go on for way too long, echoing Goddard’s uncompromising habit of beating it into your head for the sheer sake of gratuity. The story jumps backward and forward in time resulting in a disjointed narrative involving more characters than Game of Thrones, but the dialog remains solid and quite funny when not being twisted by loops and effects. Speaking of which, this is probably the most the director has restrained his use of post-production manipulation keeping it only where completely necessary for the story. It’s a tightly controlled chaos that perfectly captures that moment in LA’s history.
“…rises to the top of his game here with his best film to date.”
It should be mentioned that Packard’s style is not for everyone. While a cult of us revels in his uncomfortable style, most people will probably get annoyed after 10 minutes and leave the room. This is a perfectly reasonable reaction that says more about the psychopathy of his fans than the psychology of his detractors. More coherent movies were made twenty-five years ago by rednecks with camcorders in their backyards. That said, if you’re into this sort of thing, you’ll be the happiest person in the room when it’s over.
Do you remember the ‘90s? Does the Illuminati hide behind every news report we hear? Are albino reptilians controlling our reality? Night Pulse doesn’t answer these questions or even ask them. Instead, it exists in between, simply stating that the questions exist. Enjoy. Or don’t.
Night Pulse. Directed by Damon Packard. Written by John Bekolay, Steve Cattani, Mike Hickey, Peter Neil and Damon Packard. Starring Mike Hickey, Marika Jett Hickey, John Bekolay, Jennifer Field, Will De Los Santos, Isaac Bar-Jonah and Don Bolles
10 out of 10 stars