Review: Painless / Cert: TBC / Director: Juan Carlos Medina / Screenplay: Juan Carlos Medina, Luiso Berdejo / Starring: Irene Montala, Derek de Lint, Felix Gomez, Tomas Lemarquis, Juan Diego / UK Release Date: TBC
Director Juan Carlos Medina’s debut feature film (co-written with one of the writers Luiso Berdejo) is a haunting, visceral allegorical horror exploring the Spanish conscience in the aftermath of the civil war. When a group of children are diagnosed with the affliction of feeling no pain (a real condition called congenital analgesia) they are snatched away from their family, forced into straitjackets, tattooed with a letter and hidden away from the rest of the world in a sanatorium where they are experimented upon. Living without pain should be a sought after superpower but it turns out to be a curse. Cries of “what monster did this to them?” are screamed angrily and Medina looks to the past for the answer.
Two stories play out simultaneously; one beginning in 1931, spanning over a decade and telling the sad tale of these diseased children, the other set in the present day following neurosurgeon, David Martel (Alex Brendemuhl). David is involved in a terrible car accident from which he strangely emerges unscathed only to be told he is suffering from Lymphoma. This leads him back to his family in search of a bone marrow donor, but things take a dark turn as the past rears its ugly head and some shocking secrets are revealed.
Tension and mystery mounts well as David searches the past and his heritage. Both stories mesh together without becoming confusing thanks to slick editing and an intriguing, well-paced narrative. The backdrop of the Spanish civil war and the isolated hospital set atop a hill, where the children live a strange existence, create an imposing and engrossing landscape and it plays out like a dark fairy-tale. Images of children setting themselves on fire, biting chunks out of their arms, slicing up cantankerous nurses and peeling their fingernails off will set your teeth on edge. Pools of blood adorn the screen after brutal acts are committed as a metaphor for the measures taken for eradication of communism after the civil war.
The idea of what it means to be evil is searched and embodied in the character of Berkano played by the striking Tomas Lemarquis who appears emblazoned with scars all over his body. Just like Frankenstein’s monster he is misunderstood, feared and full of despair.
Medina looks at physical pain but this is also a philosophical look at the power of evil and conflict that is still affecting the present generation. Stolen childhoods, heinous deeds and a painful past are exposed in this visually original and extremely well thought out and impressive debut.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10