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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.02.17] thriller drama

In the opening minutes of Painless writer/director Jordan Horowitz sets up the premise of his movie with no dialogue. Through aged video, we see a little boy getting into all sorts of pain inducing trouble with no response so when we meet the adult Henry Long, we already know his deal is: he can’t feel pain.

Henry has become obsessed with figuring out why he can’t feel pain and trying to fix himself. This, along with reading people’s ailments, are the only two things he cares about until a man comes knocking on his door offering to help him in his search for a cure. In exchange, Henry has to provide some of his DNA for sampling. And so Henry and Dr. Andrews come to work together even though the pair have different goals - Henry wants to feel while Dr. Andrews wants to develop a cure for pain - getting there is mutually beneficial. For a little while at least.

It’s not clear whether the science of Painless is good or simply made up for the movie though I expect it’s likely a mix of the two since it seems the movie took inspiration from M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (I mean, even Andrews and Henry have completely opposite illnesses; Henry feels no pain while Andrews is in constant pain), but Horowitz keeps the story grounded in a familiar reality which is one of the things which makes Painless so much fun to watch.

Though the battle of wills and intellect between Henry and Dr. Andrews is at the centre of the movie’s final act, for the most part, Painless is focused on the struggle of living without pain and how that affects day-to-day life. It’s not immediately apparent but living without feeling pain is far more dangerous than one might initially consider and the dangers run the gamut from uncomfortable to potentially deadly. It means not knowing whether you’re going to burn your tongue on that coffee or dinner, if it’s hot or cold out, or whether that fall left you with broken ribs. Your body still reacts to your surroundings and actions but you can’t tell if the outcome/injury is serious.

Some of the minutia is so well developed that it’s clear Horowitz has been developing this story for some time and it’s this attention to detail which sets Painless apart. The world feels lived in and real and whether the science is real or not, a world where a man suffers from this ailment feels real even if the villain feels larger-than-life. The one misstep is the music which feels completely overpowering, especially during some of the movie’s key emotional moments.

Cemented by a great lead performance from Joey Klein, Painless is a nice genre surprise, a movie that takes a grandiose idea but manages to keep the story intimate.

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