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Painkillers Review

February 21, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
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Painkillers Review  

Painkillers Review

Adam Huss– John Clarke
Madeline Zima– Chloe Clarke
Grant Bowler– Herb Morris
Debra Wilson– Gail Konrad
Tate Birchmore– Brian
Mischa Barton– Sarah

Directed by Roxy Shih
Screenplay by Giles Daoust

Distributed by Vision Films

Not Rated
Runtime– 84 minutes

Watch it here


In this day and age, it’s rare to see a vampire movie that seems “fresh” and “new,” let alone good. Painkillers, from director Roxy Shih and writer Giles Daoust, is one of those rare new and fresh seeming vampire movies. Painkillers is also damn good.

The movie stars Adam Huss as John Clarke, a badass surgeon who, after getting into a car accident where his young son Brian (Tate Birchmore) is killed, experiences a full body shaking syndrome that just won’t go away. Various doctors and experts and whatnot try to “fix” Clarke with all sorts of drugs and treatments but nothing works (he’s given morphine and it doesn’t do a damn thing). At the same time, Clarke’s doctors have no idea why he has the shaking syndrome as there’s nothing actually, physically, wrong with him. One day, out of the blue, Clarke cuts his hand on a broken glass and consumes some of his own blood (he sucks on the wound, as people tend to do when they cut their hand). Suddenly, Clarke’s shaking stops.

For a little bit. The shaking eventually returns. Clarke deliberately cuts his wrist and drinks more of his blood. This time, the shaking doesn’t stop at all. What the hell is going on? Why did consuming blood “fix” him that one time?

It’s at this point in the story that the mysterious Herb Morris (Grant Bowler) appears and talks with Clarke. Herb claims to know what’s wrong with Clarke and how to help him (according to Herb, Clarke’s condition can’t really be “fixed” in the traditional sense). Essentially, the trauma Clarke experienced as a result of the car accident and loss of his son “activated” a part of Clarke’s body that makes him need “fresh” blood. The bit where he consumed some of his own blood is how most people with the condition discover they have it in the first place and it only “works” once. After that, the blood consumed needs to be fresh and from some other source. Animal blood cannot be substituted. The blood must be human.

Initially, Clarke rejects Herb’s offer for help. Herb seems kind of shady and Clarke wants nothing to do with him. On top of that, Clarke is a world class surgeon and a smart guy. He can figure this out without an intermediary like Herb. Clarke’s non-Herb plans works for a little while, as he tries to steal blood from a blood bank and then sets himself up at his hospital to get blood from people having surgery. Clarke’s scheme eventually fails, when his boss Gail (Debra Wilson) walks in on him trying to drink a pitcher of blood. How the hell is he going to get fresh blood now?

When Herb is brought back into the story, Painkillers takes a seriously sinister turn that will not only make you squirm, but will also give you a new view on what it is the “lead” vampire/vampire king actually is. I know I wasn’t expecting that characterization.

Now, Painkillers does peter out a bit at the end. In short, the movie doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion. I don’t think it’s because anyone involved with Painkillers thinks the movie is a potential low budget franchise in the making and the ending helps set up Painkillers 2: Bloody Sunday or whatever. I mean, I could see a sequel maybe happening (Clarke and Herb are not the only “vampires” out there in the world), but the way the ending plays out it doesn’t feel like director Shih and writer Daoust are setting anything up. I have a feeling that the ending is meant to mirror real life in that, as like in real life, the ending isn’t always satisfactory. Sometimes, life just peters out, fades away, and is just… it just ends.

Would it have been wiser to come up with a more exciting, slam bang ending for Painkillers? Maybe. But would it have been an honest ending, considering how the rest of the movie plays out? Maybe not. If Painkillers was my movie I probably would have gone for the “big” ending, but then it isn’t my movie. I like the way director Shih and writer Daoust decide to end the story. It’s a ballsy way to conclude what amounts to a pretty messed up story.

Painkillers is also grounded a cinematic reality that resembles life outside of cinema (you know, real, everyday life). John Clarke may be a badass surgeon, but he lives a fairly normal life. He has a wife (Chloe, as played by Madeline Zima), a son, and a house in the suburbs. And even when his son is killed and Clarke is experiencing serious trauma and Herb shows up, the movie’s tone and setting doesn’t change. You can recognize the world they all live in. You won’t recognize some of the details (the whole vampire thing), but, yeah, this shit could “plausibly” be happening where you live right now. Well, in a way.

Adam Huss does a great job as John Clarke. You totally believe him as a doting dad who can’t accept what’s happened to his young son. Huss also manages to sell the vampire aspect of the story, which is mostly him shaking and then not shaking. Huss should also be commended for drinking that pitcher of stage blood or whatever the hell it actually is as it looks absolutely disgusting.

Grant Bowler does a terrific job as Herb Morris, the guy who understands all of this vampire business. His relationship with Huss is electric because you know, right from the start, that Herb is a bad guy, but you’re not quite sure why he’s a bad guy. Their final scenes together are tension filled and will make you squirm in your seat. It would be interesting to see a sort of “prequel” to this movie where we see Herb in his element, making his “vampire business” work. Aha! Maybe that will be the next Painkillers! Painkillers: Herb’s Story. I’d watch that.

Madeline Zima does a nice job as Chloe, John’s wife. She spends most of the movie distraught and trying to deal with her son’s death and sort of gets forgotten for a little while (the movie is John Clarke’s story), but she has some nice scenes spread throughout. Her big bathtub scene is heartbreaking.

Now, Mischa Barton is in the movie, but, for the life of me I don’t remember who the hell she plays (is she the woman at the very beginning, the one in the alley?). Debra Wilson, though, as Clarke’s boss Gail, does a good job threatening Clarke with firing if he doesn’t explain what the hell is going on with him.

Painkillers is now available on various Video On Demand platforms, including Amazon. It’s an engrossing, well-made vampire thriller that isn’t a standard vampire movie. It’s something new, something you haven’t likely seen before. If you’re in the mood for a new thriller, check out Painkillers as soon as you can. It’s well worth your time.

See Painkillers. See it, see it, see it.


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 3

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: Wrist slitting, blood drinking, an opening titles sequence where it looks like someone is using a paper towel to absorb blood for some reason, father and son soccer hooey, driving in the woods, an incredibly irresponsible “lights out” driving “game,” a car accident, a sudden, grief induced freak out, morphine hooey, MRI hooey, a “what sort of treatment will work?” montage, toys, unstoppable shaking, soap dropping, a nasty hand cut, more blood drinking, very slow driving, blood stealing, a pitcher of blood, attempted internet research, surgery assistance, attempted mugging, gut stabbing, video watching, beating a pedophile, rubber glove hooey, a basement lair, goblet smashing, off screen attempted suicide, eggs and toast and coffee, a “cleaning the bathroom” montage, news watching, a beating, and an ending that doesn’t seem all that satisfying until you think about it for a little while.

Kim Richards?: Big time.

Gratuitous: “Special Appearance by Mischa Barton,” father and son talking about school, a Playmobil doll, a sad as fuck funeral, blood drinking, a bruised head, a very concerned wife, a 9/11 backstory, a man masturbating, talk of morals, and an ending that doesn’t seem all that satisfying until you think about it for a little while.

Best lines: “It’s just, I missed you, Dad,” “Hey, you want to see something scary?,” “Brian, is he all right?,” “John, what are you doing? Why are you putting him away like that?,” “I am so sorry for your loss,” “John, we should talk,” “You drank your own blood and your pain went away?,” “What am I, like, a vampire or something?,” “Gail wants to see you in an hour,” “I want to start today. Immediately,” “John, just talk to me,” “You fucking stabbed me!,” “Arms up,” “Stay away from me. I don’t want to hurt you,” “You have it, too?,” “Pale skin is bad for business,” “This doesn’t exist, right?,” “The pain comes from unbearable guilt. Like yours, John,” “No, I don’t play with the cards I’m dealt. I deal the motherfucking cards,” “Shut the fuck up and open your eyes!,” “Shit, man, I thought you were going to kill him!,” “John do the right thing. Take control. Drink,” “I know what you want,” “Tell me about the blood,” “If you get… when you get through this, the door is always open,” “Wow, I didn’t know you were such a big shot,” “Let me out of here, you prick!,” “Don’t you fucking move!,” and “It’s been too long since you experienced real pain.”

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Painkillers is a new vampire movie that isn’t your typical vampire movie. It’s something else entirely, something you’ve never seen before. It features excellent performances from both Adam Huss and Grant Bowler, and a story that will eventually make you squirm because, in a way, it seems incredibly plausible. The ending may divide audiences, but it makes sense and is, like the rest of the movie, unexpected. See Painkillers as soon as you can. It’s worth your time.

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Painkillers, Bryan Kristopowitz