Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Inoperable

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Directed by Christopher Lawrence Chapman
Zorya Films / Millman Productions
85 minutes, 2018

It’s wonderful how Danielle Harris turned a cutesy television acting career (for example, I first noted her as a regular on the 2000-2002 show That’s Life, where she played someone named Plum) into becoming one of the top of the current scream queens. Sure even back then she was doing a horror turn now and again, but it’s in the indie horrors that she really took off and reach her fan base.

The reason I bring this up is the very diminutive in stature but equally big in style Harris is the star of this new straight to DVD/VoD film. She plays Amy in this play on the repeating Groundhog Day theme from hell that also has just a shade of Grave Encounters (especially the sequel). Mixing the events of a day stuck in the middle of a traffic jam with continually waking up in a hospital of the damned, she slowly starts to put pieces together. An interesting aspect that extrapolates from the now-classic Bill Murray comedy is that every time Amy awakens-like-the-Force, while there are some repetitions, the scenarios change drastically, such as either not being seen by those around her to her being attacked by them. We (and she) quickly learn that the staff running the place has no compulsion on using scalpels, drugs or electro-shock “therapy.”

With each reoccurrence, the violence gets more severe (and usually in close-up), either to her or those she views around her. As all this is happening, the well-chosen and  presciently named Hurricane Sybil is looming in on her locus, centered in Tampa Bay, Florida. One constant is the blonde woman who wanders the hall sloooowly (Crystal Cordero), popping in and out at will.
In one incarnation, she meets two people: a cop, Ryan (Jeff Denton), and the dressed to the nines Jen (Katie Keene). They are also part of the repetition on the side of the prey, as well as giving Amy some chance to work out what is going on (and for the audience as exposition, as well). They suspect that there are a series of timelines that are being affected by the hurricane having done something to an army base experiment. Honestly, it’s not very clear and seems farfetched, but so what. It’s what is going on in this story that is germane more than why.

To keep if further interesting, the time shifting progressively happens faster each time, so there is no reason to feel the same-old-same-old, even with the repetition. Speaking of the temporal, I was wondering either when this story was actually filmed, or perhaps when it was supposed to take place. For example, Amy has a flip phone, the computers are all desktop and the monitors are cathode tubed with the big backs. Honestly, the flat screen televisions in the hall that keep us all updated about the hurricane’s location feels a bit achromatic to the rest of the technology, even if their images look more analog signal than HD digital.

All these different time scenarios give the chance to present the audience with increasing levels and reasons for gore since characters can be sliced and diced more than once, so that’s not a bad thing, right? And why is all this happening? Aye, that’s the question of the day, ain’it?

This film plays with one of my favorite devices of speculating how much is in the mind and how much is in the reality of the characters. From early on, I had a theory of what was going on, and the reasons for it. I was 90 percent wrong, I’m happy to say, and that says a lot about the film.

Of course the cast is strong, as most of its players have a long list of credits. But there are some other aspects of the film worth noting. For example, the camera and dolly work is superb, and of special note is the editing. Working in the repetitions by seamlessly cutting out the recurring actions though editing is a good way to support of the story without annoying the audience. There is also a lot of motion in the physical sense as well, as we watch Amy do a lot of running down long hospital hallways. I was exhausted just watching her.

The gore is thick and rich throughout, including (but not exclusively) by use of needles, surgical saws, and scalpels. There is a lot of body cutting (etc.) that definitely falls sort of torture porn but can probably be considered body horror. Add the psychological twists and turns and it’s a pretty full package.

Image result for inoperable keeneThere is also a very subtle and dark humor that occasionally pops up, such as a comment Amy makes upon waking up for the umpteenth time (I’m not going to give it away). There were a couple of moments here and there, though, where I thought the film lagged a bit, mostly around phone calls. Mostly, though, it’s a pretty taut thriller and the cast is certainly up for that. Harris and Keene (most of the time saddled with some horrendous shoes) are up for the task, and both have their moments to shine, throughout.

What really keeps this film from being like any other time looper is that every time it happens there are some repetitions (especially around those damned phone calls), but as I said, the story changes enough each time that even though there are familiarities, it morphs enough to keep the suspense going.

There are also the rare plot holes, and certainly I have a few questions (though most of them I can’t ask here without giving away too much), but one of the nice things about this kind of story is that because of the overlapping and forever shifting timelines, it’s easy to lose and explain away the holes in the different directions.

That being said, this is only the director’s second feature (the first being non-genre), and he handles it exceedingly well for such a complex story. That’s pretty exciting.

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