‘Painkillers’ is an original and well-put-together horror-thriller which sees a surgeon by the name of John Clarke (Adam Huss) develop a condition, triggered by his own guilt over the loss of his son, for which the only treatment is the continual ingestion of human blood.
With John being something of a honest gent – the hippocratic oath and all that – coping with his urges sees him embarking on a morally dubious journey as he seeks to satiate his needs, a journey which takes an even darker direction when John is approached by a mysterious stranger who claims to not only know of Jack’s unusual condition, but who can supply him with all the blood he needs to live a normal life; for a price of course.
Whilst I may be wrong, I took John’s condition, his perpetual tremors and constant pain to represent how the guilt that people suffer can be crippling, whilst his need for blood likely representing the quick outs (drugs, alcohol and other vice) which people choose for short relief but ultimately never truly help with the healing – that, or this is a really unique take on the Vampire genre!
Either way the acting, scripting and production value are all top notch, and, for such a simple (and somewhat linear) plot, it aint half… well…thrilling. Combining a nice balance of exposition and storytelling with the occasional set piece, which really ups the ante in testing just how far John will go to get his old life back, sans kid of course.
I will start with saying that whilst this is likely a low budget movie, it certainly doesn’t look like one. Nor does it come across like one, with outstanding camera work and grading, subtle and emotive sound design, strong writing with careful attention to the developments of the films few, but memorable characters.
The acting is solid, and whilst perhaps John’s continuous shaking is perhaps a little overplayed/distracting at times the film puts forward some strong performances in the main. The film is very dramatic, each scene is filled with angst, remorse, pity and anger. It pushes you to think about how you would handle the morally dubious scenarios presented to John, after all, that blood he needs has to come from somewhere, and even though it may come from rapists, paedophiles and other of humanities scum, a life is still a life, right?
The writing is solid, and whilst there is there is the odd slow moment, and some pretty predicable dialogue here and there, the film somehow keeps moving forwards, raising the stakes as John battles with his inner demons, and those who would exploit his weakness and desperation. There is some violence in the film, but whilst its very real feeling, it is unlikely to satiate someone who is looking for a more violent feature, so bear that in mind.
Whilst I found ‘Painkillers’ to be engaging, and it certainly has some dark themes, as a whole the film leans towards the more drama side of thriller, as opposed to escalating into carnage.
Overall, ‘Painkillers’ is far from a genre film I would typically enjoy all that much, but truthfully, what director Roxy Shih has crafted here is well worth a watch. As an indie film its components clicked, acting, visual style and its story all work together to ensure that the films 82-minute runtime gives you bang for buck with regards to its story which is simple enough to sit back and enjoy, but not so much that it can’t surprise you along the way. Similarly, it doesn’t linger on its core themes or message, yet does enough to see the films conclusion is both satisfying and one you still care about as the credits roll.