Confusion can be a vital component to a horror experience. If the aim is to disorient and make the viewer uneasy, keeping plot details or the mechanics of a situation vague can help enhance the fear that drives such a plot and place the viewer in the protagonist’s shoes to provide a visceral proxy experience. However, there is a caveat to pursuing such a technique; if you’re going to mess with how the protagonist and viewer perceive their reality, you still need to make sure that your established reality conforms to rules independent of the viewer’s perception. In other words, there needs to be internal logical consistency to a narrative even if that consistency isn’t readily apparent in any given moment. This is the test that Inoperable fails. More perplexing, co-writers Christopher Lawrence Chapman and Jeff Miller seem completely aware of that failure and double down on it.
Our set-up finds Amy Barrett (Danielle Harris) in a seemingly abandoned hospital, wandering the halls as a hurricane traps her within. However, she suddenly flashes back to wake up once again in the hospital, only now there are people who variably can and cannot see her. As this cycle repeats itself again and again, Amy meets other people who can remember time’s repetition: a deputy named Ryan (Jeff Denton) and a glamorously dressed young woman named Jen (Katie Keene). As the three of them struggle to make sense of their situation, it becomes clear that something isn’t right in this hospital, as doctors are operating on unanaesthetized patients who protest there is nothing wrong with them.
In practice, this is little more than an excuse to set up scene after scene of medical torture, as the film routinely repeats the same set-up only to have no payoff other than bloody spectacle. There’s a lot of nonsense about Amy needing to figure out how to escape the time loop and discovering why the doctors are suddenly so malicious and violent, but this is the very definition of jogging in place, as Amy never really goes anywhere and doesn’t accomplish much until the film glances at its watch and decides it’s finally time to beat some resolution out of this dead horse. Ryan and Jen would theoretically offer increased dimension to Amy’s trips through time, but they only ever serve to exposit theories at Amy as to what is going on, or to act as sounding boards when Amy does the same.
The worst part is that once it is revealed just what is happening in this hospital, it is the most headslappingly lazy and obvious solution. It’s baffling to think it warranted a whole movie. It’s the kind of twist you expect from a student short film as a proof of concept, not from a fully funded feature, independent or not. It makes the entire viewing experience feel like a waste of time rather than a puzzle to be solved, as rather than declaring checkmate Chapman and Miller decide to swipe all the pieces off the board to declare victory.
There is some shock value in Inoperable’s plethora of bloody effects sequences, but this is quickly lost in repetition, and the incoherent narrative is neither rewarding in the moment nor rewarded by the climax. This confusion makes the film more dull than terrifying, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is that more thought seems to have been placed into slapping together whatever gore effects were on hand than making it all make sense. I’m sorry to say this one’s dead on arrival.