A subdued, thought-provoking film that doesn’t seem to fit in with the usual horror fare that came out in 1984, Impulse draws a lot of comparisons to Romero’s underrated gem The Crazies, but it also bears a lot of similarities to another film which came out that same year, Return of the Living Dead. Perhaps I’m coming from out of left field, but this nihilistic take on Big Brother might lack the visuals and humor of Return, but it certainly carries the same theme of out-of-control madness and the powerlessness to contain it.
Jennifer (Meg Tilly) receives a phone call from her mother. After mom calls her a “smiling slut”, she then puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. She survives the wound, and Jennifer and her attentive boyfriend (Tim Matheson) head to Smalltown, USA to see Jennifer’s mother. Upon arrival, the town Jennifer grew up in seems normal enough, but slowly she and Tim begin to notice a subtle dissention amongst the townsfolk. A man urinates on a car, a scorned lover breaks his own fingers, a mother watches her kids set a garage on fire (while Jennifer is trapped inside!) and a sheriff kills a young delinquent boy as the town watches, emotionless. The one bridge that leads the outside world into the town is cut off as Jennifer and Tim search for the answers to the sudden madness.
On the surface, Impulse feels like it’s at odds with itself, presenting the dark with the light, but Graham Baker’s meticulous direction (there are several subtle visual clues sprinkled throughout) leads every single frame to a shocking climax.
Meg Tilly and Tim Matheson are excellent, with Matheson proving that he’s much more than a pretty face and deserving of more thoughtful fare. Hume Cronyn is great as the doctor who can’t stop himself from cutting off his patient’s oxygen, only to give her a few moments of breath and begin suffocating her again. And Bill Paxton puts in an energetic and deeply disturbed performance in an early role.
Impulse is a thinking man’s horror movie; compelling, contemplative and alarming, it reminds you that control is not always yours.