Painless – TIFF 2012
As I’ve mentioned I am a huge baby when it comes to horror. I am very easily creeped out, and while I appreciate that there have been some amazing cinematic triumphs in that genre I tend to avoid them out of a sense of self-preservation. But Painless’ description caught my attention well enough to convince me it was worth braving a horror-thriller.
And after having seen it I can’t agree that it’s really a horror movie in the classic sense. Sure, it has some super creepy horror elements, but the story is far more dramatic. Again, that’s not to say that horror can’t have real drama, but I expect more scares from horror. Painless had a few, but rather than causing gasps of shock it instead made people groan in disgust. But I appreciated that, I liked that it was more about creating a deep sense of unease and loss than making us jump out of our seats.
Painless is two stories, told concurrently. In the first story children in a small village are discovered to be impervious to pain. They are feared because their lack of empathy makes them deadly to others. One young boy in particular is written-off as being pure evil almost immediately. Years of abuse and neglect make it a self-fulfilling prophecy and a monster is born. In the present day a surgeon is forced to go on a hunt for his birth parents to save his own life. At first the plots seem to be unrelated, but as they progress it becomes obvious that they will intersect. Unfortunately this is the movie’s weak point. Once you realize the path the conclusion seems inevitable which takes away the suspense.
Writer-Director Juan Carlos Medina had a vision he wanted to put on screen, and I think it came across. He was bold with his imagery and as dark as they were they are now some of my favourite scenes in film. A little girl burning her own arm for fun and then gleefully setting her sister on fire stays with you for some reason. But the ending was a disappointment and takes away from the journey. I would have loved if Painless was only the story of the children but I understand the impulse to bring the horror of the past to our world today. This is Medina’s first feature and I hope that it will make enough buzz to support him in future projects. He’s got some darkness inside and I would love to see more from him.