Painless (originally called Insensibles) is a fantasy horror film set in Catalonia which tells two stories that interlink. One is set during the Spanish civil war as an asylum rehabilitates a group of children with an ‘illness’ that means they are unable to feel pain. The second is set in the present day as a neurosurgeon who survives a car accident discovers by fluke that he has cancer and has to uncover the unfortunate truth about his real heritage when he goes in search of a bone marrow transplant from his parents to help save his life.
Like many Spanish horror/fantasy films (Pan’s Labyrinth, REC and Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes) to name a few) Painless has a great, gritty atmosphere with beautiful visuals and a real sense of the time period in which it’s set. There’s fantastic attention to detail in the sets and costume that really sets the two time periods apart so that the transitions between present day and the Spanish civil war are clear and smooth. The colours; the almost sepia tone to the scenes set in the 30s-through-60s in contrast to the cold blues and greys of the present day are stunning and the visuals have this brilliant depth that’s a treat to watch.
The story itself is relatively simple however the link between the two time periods is irritatingly tenuous and the reveal at the end (which to all intents and purposes should be shocking and exciting) just seems like a random attempt to link the two stories together. The Spanish civil war-set storyline about children incapable of feeling pain is a very interesting concept and the scenes are done incredibly well; it’s a shame the second storyline was even included and more focus on the children in the civil war and their bizarre ‘illness’ would have made a much more interesting and enthralling watch. The film loses its finesse towards the end and goes from a gripping thriller with an interesting plot to something too fantastical and too unbelievable, and the twist isn’t executed well at all.
Generally Painless is an interesting watch and much of it is incredibly enthralling and visually very clever. The use of two interlinking stories doesn’t work in this film like it does in many others and it actually detracts from the real heart of the story which, if explored in more depth, could have been brilliant. The children, torn from their families and locked away in padded rooms from the rest of the world because of their inability to feel pain and thus their danger to themselves and others, is incredibly innovative and interesting. There are times when the relationship between the two main children Benigno (Ilias Stothart) and Ines (Bruna Montoto) is very moving (albeit quite gory too!) and a deeper exploration to allow us to really engage with these children and their tragic stories would have made the film brilliant. The second story set in the present day should have been scrapped altogether.
Painless is an interesting film that’s visually very good. Part of the story is brilliant and has great potential however this isn’t fully realised due to the apparent need to tenuously tie the story in with the present day. Director and writer Juan Carlos Medina perhaps didn’t feel confident that a story set in history could be strong enough on its own without a link to the present day to keep it grounded, however this is far from the truth and the flimsiness of the story in the present day and its connections with characters in the past are limp at best.
An interesting film that’s well worth checking out.