RUNNING TIME: 15 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A suited man turns up at a house where a woman seems to be giving herself pain. Her boyfriend tells the visitor that the two are scientists and had developed an organism that, rather than feed off its host like a parasite, can live in a symbiotic relationship with him or her and feed off the patient’s pain while releasing pleasurable endorphins, allowing people dying of things like cancer to live out their final days without pain and with dignity. Since it was designed specifically for human use there’s no way to test it on animals, the girl lets the man use her as a guinea pig….
“ There was a side effect we had not prepared for”.
So many horror films, indeed stories, wouldn’t exist if characters in them, especially scientists, had stopped and thought a bit more about what they were about to embark on. Painkiller, the first of three short films I will review from filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp whose The Days God Slept was one of my favourite short films from 2013 [and who has just completed his first feature film The Sadist starring makeup legend Tom Savini], features two more folk who should really have questioned what they were doing and seen some other horror films. Then again, the research depicted here really does have the best intentions, one being able to totally side with the two young scientists in the film at first when Jerry Janda’s intelligent script has the man talk of how pain management tends to just prolong the pain and turn people into addicts. In a world where cancer seems to be spreading but we are still so behind in preventing and treating it, Painkiller asks some very important questions and really provides the viewer with some food for thought.
Of course Painkiller is also a horror film, very much in the vein of early David Cronenberg, though I also think I detected links with Martyrs. The opening [which is paralleled with a very similar ending shot], of a woman on a TV repeatedly crying: “not enough” as she administers herself some pain is quite disturbing and tells you that this is going to be a hard-hitting, uncompromising experience. The short running time really enables Kipp and Janda to get to the point almost immediately. The man’s insertion of the organism into his girlfriend’s spinal column has a dark sexual edge and the film is often quite uncomfortable to watch thereafter as the organism begins to die, and therefore the girl with it, unless it is provided with more pain. The violence is harsh without being dwelled upon, a face beating, for example, being shown blurred in the background. In fact, I think I saw more brutality and gore than I actually did, which should tell you how effective the film was. The flashback structure of the first two thirds work well and, while it seems fairly obvious straight away what the role of the mysterious stranger who is so interested in the two scientist’s work is, later on the story does have a couple of surprises in store involving him while choosing not to quite fill in all the blanks.
The cinematography by Steve Adams and Jeffrey S. Gould is quite stylish, with lots of Dutch angles adding to the feeling of things rapidly getting out of control, and the performances are all convincing. Kelly Rae LeGault makes an especially strong impression as the poor girl who can only survive with more pain being administered to her. Within the film’s short running time, she really makes you feel for her character’s situation and makes it believable. The whole thing looks more expensive than it probably was and has a very polished, slick sheen to it throughout. I would actually like to see Painkiller made into a feature film – I think the premise could be developed without losing the intensity and intimacy- though I guess it would be very hard to watch indeed. Anyway, Painkiller may be less avant garde in nature than The Days God Slept, but will probably make you think just as much and shows that Kipp is entirely comfortable working in a very different genre.
You can buy or rent Painkiller here: https://painkillerfilm.com/2014/10/18/buy-or-rent-painkiller-today