Painkillers, directed by Roxy Shih, tells the story of surgeon and doctor John Clarke who becomes stricken with intense pain after being in a car crash which killed his young son. The only solution to the pain is to drink fresh human blood. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.
While slow to start, once John meets Herb the sadistic and menacing blood salesman things really begin to pick up speed and I found myself fully invested in the story. The performances all around were great, with Adam Huss portraying John perfectly. His constant shaking and jolting to convey the pain looks realistic and consistent and makes me believe the trauma that he has gone through. Grant Bowler’s portrayal of Herb also stands out. The pragmatic and oddly sympathetic reasons behind his psychopathy make him a complex character and goes to show how corrupted and warped trauma can render someone. His transition from 9/11 rescuer to a vigilante blood thief is a complex transformation, yet one that the viewer can sympathise and believe in. His reasons for doing what he does almost outweigh the macabre madness of his actions, which makes for a truly superb character.
The secondary characters of John’s wife and co-worker are also played well, with their concern and love for John being prevailing themes for their characters and also providing compelling context to their relationship with John and his life prior to the events of the crash. The grounded and gritty take on vampirism is also a fascinating context. While Hollywood has been out of their most recent vampire phase for some time, it is refreshing and intriguing to see a film tackle the idea of vampires in a more plausible and realistic way.
The ending is my biggest issue however. John deciding to live with the pain as opposed to drinking blood is a nice change of pace as opposed to the obvious ending of John deciding to become a full fledged blood drinker but the film’s treatment of Herb is an issue. John locks him in his own cell at the end of the film, and Herb has been stabbed at this point also. John then just leaves and the film ends shortly after. John had fingerprints all over the house including the knife that Herb was killed with, meaning that he would not be as safe as he seems if the body were discovered. Apart from this issue, I really enjoyed this film and would highly recommend watching it.
VERDICT: Overall, I would give Painkillers an 8 out of 10 for being an intriguing drama with some off-kilter concepts and an unsatisfying ending.