From Donald Cammell’s 1977 sci-fi horror film Demon Seed to Disney Channel’s 1999 original movie Smart House to episodes of prolific TV shows such as Black Mirror and Mr. Robot, which included a depiction of houses that can be hacked into, smart house systems have gotten a bad rep across film and television. Bad Impulse, the latest film from world renowned acting coach turned director Michelle Danner, is no different.
Bad Impulse centres around the happy-go-lucky Sharpe family, which consists of father Henry (Grant Bowler), mother Christine (Sonya Walger) and their children Angela (Abbi Ford), Nicholas (Mike Danner) and Sam (Oscar Devler). Their peaceful and carefree routine is interrupted when Henry is attacked by a group of masked intruders who break into their house one night, causing them to install a high-tech security system that monitors both the people getting into the house and the ones leaving as well. This system seems to bring out the worst in everyone it comes into contact with, bringing up buried grudges and accelerating the implosion of long-repressed tensions, all while threatening to destroy the picture perfect life the Sharpe family have built for themselves.
Bad Impulse starts off with a literal bang, depicting the brutal murder-suicide of a seemingly happy family with no prior indications of any violent or abusive tendencies. “What would drive someone to do something like that,” wonders the Sharpe family out loud after they hear the news of the murder-suicide on their TV set. Throughout the course of the film, they will soon come to find out that they have much more in common with that family than they may have thought they did. While Bad Impulse plays on actual (and sometimes irrational) fears people have over the impending autonomy of technology and how computers will soon come to control our lives more so than they already do, the beauty of Bad Impulse is that its logline isn’t merely that simple. The feelings of rage and tension that build up within the Sharpe family throughout the duration of the film have always existed within them. They have only been heightened and brought up to the surface by the mysterious home security system they willingly install into their home.
Much has been made these past four years about how social media has corrupted and radicalised millions of people but the truth is that it probably wouldn’t have taken much effort to radicalise them in the first place. If your feelings or judgement can be swayed by something as flimsy and insignificant as an unsourced social media post, then these feelings have most likely existed within you prior to this post you came across. It only just brought them up to the surface. And in the specific case of the Sharpe family, who have been cheating on their spouses, hiding big secrets, and lying both to themselves and their loved ones for years prior to the intrusion of this smart system into their homes, these feelings of resentment and inadequacy would have been brought up to the surface eventually.
Bad Impulse has a lot to say not only about our increasing reliance on technology and the current state of social affairs but also on traditional family roles and how they may be harmful in some specific cases in the long run. Having just lost his job due to a series of unpredictable and unavoidable circumstances, Henry is no longer the breadwinner of the family, a role which has now gone to his highly successful wife Christine. The feelings of inadequacy that bubble up within him are not spurred on by Christine or their children, who are all supportive and understanding of Henry’s predicament, but they are spurred on by the responsibilities and expectations he has placed onto himself. Bowler, who has been turning in impeccable performances in small films and TV shows for the past few years, does an excellent job at portraying just how toxic this mindset can be on a person, perfectly capturing the weight Henry has placed on his own shoulders in a way that is not only relatable but visceral as well.
As the confident and successful Christine, Walger manages to bring some pathos and empathy to the role, displaying a palpable sense of the love she has for her family and making sure that she is a sympathetic character that audiences will be able to root for despite her flaws. Elsewhere, Abbi Ford and Mike Danner (who is the son of director Michelle Danner) are both great as the teenage children of the Sharpe family. Ford in particular has a natural and charismatic on-screen presence that it’s hard to believe that this is her first actual role.
Bad Impulse does not quite stick the landing it sets up for itself, ending with a whimper rather than the bang it sets up throughout its 90-minute duration, but thanks to tight editing, a sharp script and the cast’s great performances, it is an exciting and extremely topical psychological thriller that will linger in audiences’ minds far after the credits roll.
by Ahmad W
Currently based in the UK and the UAE, Ahmad W. is a poster designer, budding screenwriter and journalist from Boston and the (self-proclaimed) #1 Robert Eggers stan. His favourite films include mother!, The Witch, Black Swan, Hereditary and Scream. His claim to fame is a DM he got from Ari Aster (who has since left him on read) and his favorite pastime is spending the day in a cold, half-empty movie theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @ephwinslow.