A mysterious disease that can only be cured by drinking the fresh blood of a human sounds like the plot of many horror movies. There are only so many ways you can tell the story, but there is the potential for a good story. Painkillers is a 2019 movie that decides to go a different route. Eschewing the obvious horror story, the film is a drama about a surgeon who becomes afflicted by a mysterious disease after the death of his son. It is a very interesting idea, but the premise never lives up to its full potential.
Painkillers is filled with strange editing decisions. The beginning feels like the start of a television show. Its cold open is like something out of Law & Order. You almost expect to see a commercial break after the opening credits. The last twenty minutes are odd and poorly paced. After a very traumatic incident involving one of the main characters, the movie just kind keeps on going as if nothing happened. (You would think the police would be called to investigate a bathtub full of blood.) The film also uses way too many sudden cuts. There definitely is a deep story here, but the movie just can’t seem to adequately tie it all together.
The entire premise for the movie is flimsy. Dr John Huss is a strong candidate for worst father ever. Painkillers makes it clear he obviously loves his son. He is no deadbeat dad or absent father who is only around to drop off cool gifts. Still, driving with the lights off at night and not watching the road can only lead in one direction as you unbuckled son sit in the passenger seat probably is not the best idea.
The movie is also littered with generic conversations. Each character says exactly what they should. At times, it is like watching an over the top parody over a soap opera. This hurts moments that are supposed to be dramatic since they become laughable. When the dialogue is not cheesy, it’s just plain bad. Grant Bowler gets the worst of this since he plays a supposedly suave villain but is given the film’s worst lines. This places Painkillers in a bad position. It is almost impossible to get behind the intriguing story since the audience can not take the characters seriously.
This is probably the biggest drawback to Painkillers. Once you get past all the silliness, there is a compelling premise. In fact, when John discovers the cure for his strange disease (whose origin manages to include PTSD and 9/11), things do manage to pick up. Immediately, the audience is able to make a connection to the opening scene. Painkillers sets a mood of unpredictability that last the rest of the movie.
It also does a great job of addressing the alternatives to dealing with the mysterious disease. John’s affliction would be a difficult one to live with, but there are also obvious ways to handle it. Especially since he is a doctor. Every obvious answer is dealt with making the movie much more intriguing.
Painkillers even manages to be touching at times. John’s disease has ruined his life. He has lost his son, his job, and the seemingly one alternative he has is not one he is willing to take. Watching how he attempts to live his new life are the movie’s most powerful moments. This is seen most poignantly in the moments when he is driving. And while the ending has a rushed and anticlimactic feeling, it also does a great job of conveying a sense of acceptance and hope.
Ultimately, Painkillers never lives up to its intriguing potential. The idea for a good story is there and the movie will even draw you in for short periods of time. Unfortunately, an uneven script and poor pacing will cause its audience to tune out.
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