The last time I saw Danielle Harris run around a hospital looking anxious for 90-odd minutes, it was in 2014’s See No Evil 2, an utterly bland and formulaic slasher sequel. However, while new release Inoperable offers up the same leading lady and a similar hospital setting, story-wise it’s a somewhat different kettle of fish. With an outlandish, Twilight Zone-ish premise and more twists than a plate of fusilli, director and co-writer Christopher Lawrence Chapman’s film is an ambitious attempt at a more creative and cerebral brand of microbudget horror. Unfortunately, it falls flat on its face, for the simple reasons that none of it makes a lick of sense, and – rather more importantly – it’s just not very interesting.
Our central protagonist Amy (Harris) is having the weirdest day of her life. One moment she’s sitting in her sweet vintage car stuck in a traffic jam, the next she’s lying in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV. When her calls for help get no reply, Amy ventures out of her room, but she finds the hospital largely empty, and on the TV news there are reports of a major weather emergency: it seems a hurricane is coming, and the surrounding area – including the hospital – has been evacuated. However, just when she thinks she might be alone, Amy crosses paths with two strangers, Ryan (Jeff Denton) and Jen (Katie Keene) – yet they cannot see or hear her. Moments later, Amy’s back in her car wondering what the hell happened; and moments after that, she’s back in the hospital bed again. Slowly but surely, Amy comes to the somewhat shocking realisation that she’s caught in some sort of time loop. Nor is this the only shocker coming her way, as it transpires the remaining hospital staff are not as benevolent as you’d hope. Suddenly finding herself able to communicate with Ryan and Jen, Amy sticks close to them in the hope that they can figure out a way to break the cycle before the sinister forces within the hospital kill them all.
It’s a very busy premise, but not necessarily a bad one. Considering how frequently microbudget horror falls back on tired, overused set-ups and over-familiar plot beats, Inoperable is to be admired for trying something a bit different. It’s also quite stylishly shot for a microbudget film, with an unusually fluid, fast-moving camera following Harris around at all times; it almost feels like The Shining at a sprint. Gorehounds are also likely to appreciate the numerous grisly surgery sequences, even if these tend to feel a tad bit tacked on specifically to curry favour with the horror die-hards.
So where does it all go so horribly wrong? Well, for starters Inoperable really isn’t very well acted. As I said when See No Evil 2 arrived (and that was almost four years ago), Harris has done this final girl routine so many times she could do it in her sleep by now, and the role of Amy really doesn’t get anything new or interesting out of her. As for her co-stars, very little can be said in favour of any of them; there are certain moments that are aiming for high emotion, mental breakdowns and fits of hysteria, but it all comes off really amateurish, and dangerously close to inadvertent humour at times. Nor is this the only capacity in which Inoperable feels amateur: yes, the camerawork’s pretty good, but the film still has a pretty bland and lifeless look which has sadly become all too familiar with films shot on DV. Of course, the other thing about digital is how crystal clear it makes everything, not least how heavily Harris is plastered with make-up every time she wakes up in a hospital bed.
But the real crux of the problem with Inoperable is simple, and it’s the very reason why M Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory descended so rapidly in the 2000s: films based first and foremost around plot twists are, with very few exceptions, total crap. In this instance, things seemed to be shifting and changing direction with such regularity that I quickly lost any notion of what the hell was going on, and I had little to no interest in trying to make sense of it all given my total lack of investment in any of the characters. But then, to top it all off, Inoperable does the classic twist move by giving us a conclusion that renders absolutely everything that has gone before as completely invalid. Sometimes, if there’s been the right build-up to such a climactic about-face, it can work, the obvious example being The Usual Suspects (sorry, I know we’re not really supposed to praise anything by Bryan Singer or Kevin Spacey anymore); but in most instances, such an ending leaves you feeling utterly cheated, and wondering why the hell you wasted your time with the film. Given that I’d already been thinking that by the time I was half an hour into Inoperable, the last thing it needed was a climax of that nature.
If you’re an utterly devoted Danielle Harris fan, or a particular admirer of downward spiral-era Shyamalan (to each their own), then by all means give Inoperable a look; otherwise, steer well clear. Irredeemable might have been a better choice of title.
Inoperable will be available in the US on DVD, cable VOD and digital HD from 6th February.