Is the grass really greener on the other side?
Director and writer duo Stevie Cruz-Martin and Daniel Monks aim to answer that very question with their first feature film, Pulse. Presumably based on some of Daniel Monks’ own personal experience of growing up with a physical disability, Pulse offers an intriguing change of perspective, wrapped up in a less-than-ideal coming of age story.
The film follows a teenager named Olly (played by Monks) who is starting to find himself getting left behind socially as his childhood friends start dating and living the more mainstream teenage life. The painful reality of life’s challenges strikes when Olly’s friends Nat (Sian Ewers) and Luke (Scott Lee) start dating, just as Olly learns he has to have a debilitating surgery that will take him off his feet for weeks. As frustration builds within young Olly, hope appears in a rather unconventional medical procedure. Olly is given the chance to swap bodies with a young female, essentially a second shot at a normal life.
Waking up in the hours following surgery, Olly discovers he is a beautiful female (now played by Jaimee Peasley). He playfully chooses the name Olivia, not wanting to shock his friends too much, of course. Once Nat, Luke, and their acquaintance Britney (Isaro Kayitesi) adjust to the drastic change in Olly’s appearance, the group begins a seemingly normal teenage journey. Olly finally feels loved, rather than lonely, perfectly beautiful, rather than physically disabled. However, the novelty begins to wear off as Olly learns that being beautiful, female, and emotionally vulnerable isn’t so easy. The fabric of friendship begins to come apart at the seams, leaving Olly with some very difficult decisions to make.
Weaving one character into two distinct roles is no easy task. Yet, Daniel Monks managed to craft a genuine script that requires a surprisingly low suspension of disbelief. Olly’s personality is amazingly never lost, even as her confidence grows after becoming Olivia. On the visual side of this story, Cruz-Martin made impeccable decisions in who exactly played Olivia for certain scenes, alternating between Monks and Jamiee Peasley. Though visibly jarring at first, this ingenious casting maneuver quickly conveys the emotions, confidence, playfulness, and vulnerability of Olivia/Olly at any given point.
A twist on the concept of trans sexuality, Pulse is more about body swapping than the traditional trans experience. Still, Cruz-Martin and Monks deliver an insightful look into the challenges of evolving into one’s true self, even walking head-on into the notion of creating your own ideal, perfect life. Interestingly, this innovative little film can’t help but make you look beyond the physical and consider what really makes you, you.