Film Review: Inoperable

This psychological horror film’s “Twilight Zone”-worthy premise demands a level of concentration that not all genre fans will be willing to make, especially in nontheatrical markets.
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Nursing student Amy Barrett (Danielle Harris) is trapped in a paralyzing traffic jam as a rapidly approaching category-five storm dominates the local news and phone lines are overloaded. Next thing she knows, she's waking up in Bay General Hospital with no memory of how she got there. And as if that's not bad enough, the facility is weirdly empty: The lights are on and an emergency evacuation message plays on a repeating loop over the intercom system, but why are all the outside doors locked and where are the staff and the rest of the patients?

Amy eventually encounters two other refugees from the storm, Ryan (Chris Hahn) and Jen (Katie Keene), who's dressed for a night out on the town—he's a police officer and she's with him for reasons neither chooses to explain. They seem to know more about what's going on than Amy does, but whatever it is, they're not sharing. And then suddenly, Amy is back in her car.

Inoperable unfolds in a series of alternating sequences, but as Amy toggles back and forth between her car and Bay General she begins to remember bits of what happened between blackouts, and it's very weird indeed. Since first-time feature director and co-writer Christopher Lawrence Chapman's film is essentially one long, teasing reveal, to say much more would spoil its carefully parceled-out plot. And while by the last half-hour it's beginning to run out of steam—sadly, the more you know, the less intriguing the story becomes—it works surprisingly well for two-thirds of its running time.

Hospital horror isn't a large genre subset, but it's durable—Inoperable follows The Void, which opened in April—and pretty much any example can stand in for the whole. It's all about loss of control: being sick or injured, isolated and at the mercy of strangers with a gleaming war chest of sharp things and scary machines. Inoperable checks all the boxes and throws in a bunch of creepy lurkers—ghosts? lunatics? cultists?—and keeps changing up the scenario as Amy, Ryan and Jen cycle through increasingly nasty variations on a theme.

Inoperable is aimed squarely at a core audience of genre enthusiasts and is accordingly gory (practical effects, not CGI), so it's unlikely to appeal to moviegoers who prefer horror that doesn't dwell on the squishy bits, and it's too formulaic to win over anyone who doesn't inherently like the formula. It's not a game-changer, but it plays by the rules and doesn't strangle on its own complications.

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