July 30, 2013

Painless (2012)

(AKA Insensibles)

"Set in Catalonia, Painless weaves two stories: in one, starting during the Spanish Civil War and running through to the '60s, an asylum attempts to rehabilitate children who feel no pain, by teaching them physical suffering. In the second, in the present time, a brilliant neurosurgeon who needs a bone marrow transplant, discovers this dark past when he searches for his biological parents."

Since American horror is as dead as a zombie that's just been shot in the head, incinerated, and ground-up into ink to be used to print more articles from Lianne Spiderbaby in Fangoria, I've decided to return my attention to the European offerings as I continue my quest to find something horrific again. Sadly, for all of its beautiful camerawork and moments of brilliance, "Painless" was not what I was looking for.

Ostensibly a drama about congenital analgesia, "Painless" has much the same look and atmosphere as "American Horror Story: Asylum" but without the silly bits. It's pretty dour stuff all the way through since that's exactly what anyone should expect from a story set mostly during the various civil wars in Spain. If you've ever seen "The Devil's Backbone" (2001) or "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006), they have a similar socio-political commentary in the background. You can tell that director Juan Carlos Medina (actually an American by birth) fancies himself as the new Guillermo del Toro, but employing Luis Berdejo Arribas, the weaker writer from the "[REC]" series, hasn't helped his cause.

While the acting is to the same high standard as any of the big name Spanish movies from the last 10 years, the script leaves the characters begging to be more than two-dimensional. The highlight is seeing a now totally unrecognisable Derek de Lint from "Poltergeist: The Legacy" playing a German doctor who speaks Spanish. Minor as it is, he's the only one allowed to have any development.

"Domi-nique -nique -nique s'en allait tout simplement, routier, pauvre et chantant."

Other than the modern half of the story being a lot less interesting than the first hour of period set scenes, "Painless" becomes very rushed and contrived in its last third. Even if I had a thorough knowledge of Spanish political history, I doubt that it would make a great deal of sense, plus there are enormous plotholes.

Yes, there are real, physical plotholes rather than continuity errors or small lapses in logic that can be reasoned away. For one thing, I would love to know what the inmates of the hospital, especially Berkano (Tómas Lemarquis), get to eat during their incarceration. I know the kids are supposed to have supernatural abilities along with their inability to feel pain, but a couple of spoonfuls of soup, in one important case, couldn't keep a mouse alive! Cannibalism is suggested later on, but for five years with only one rotting corpse to feed on? Not likely, is it?

"We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious!"

For a reasonably well-funded movie, the production values are excellent. The cinematography is competent with only a few moments where things are too dark, the sound is good, and the location covers a multitude of sins. Unfortunately, "Painless" lacks spectacle after promising so much with its admittedly CGI-enhanced opening scene.

Plodding rather than thrilling, "Painless" is worth a rental, but it's visually better than the story it delivers.

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