TIFF 2012 – Painless (Insensibles) Review (Matt Hodgson)

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Painless (2012)

Starring Tomas Lemarquis, Alex Brendemühl, Derek De Lint, Juan Diego, and Silvia Bel

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina

MINOR SPOILERS

David (Brendemühl) is a brilliant neurosurgeon, a man obsessed with his job. His wife implores him to spend less time at work, after all they have a baby on the way. But family arguments quickly become the least of David’s worries after a deadly accident and an equally dangerous diagnosis tear his world apart. The treatment for David’s illness requires him to learn about his childhood and the place he was born. This investigation uncovers a history about a special group of children who were impervious to pain. But what starts out as a history lesson turns into a race against the clock as David tries to discover the truth about his upbringing in a fight for survival.

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Painless is a slow burn and cerebral thriller that manages to interestingly blend two very different settings and times in Spain. The story oscillates between David’s present-day investigation into his genealogy and a sanatorium in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. The sanatorium houses the aforementioned ‘painless’ children, whose innocent investigation of the world around them often has dangerous or bloody consequences as they have been given little reason to fear anything in life: fire, knives, animals, they are simply toys to these children. Medina’s blending of these two drastically different times and settings is rather seamless. As we witness the convergence of the storylines it rarely seems predictable and is usually captivating. It should be mentioned that the narrative does drag a bit in the middle of the movie, however Medina takes us into some very dark places of the human soul and this may have not been possible without the slow exposition preceding the payoff.

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Brendemühl is very capable as the lead in the film, while the supporting cast is fairly strong throughout. However my attention was on the man in the shadows. Coming off his great performance in Errors of the Human Body, Tomas Lemarquis plays another very creepy character and is quickly making a name for himself through his memorable villains. I’m still waiting for him to get a truly vile role in a popular genre movie and become the household name that he deserves to be. That’s not to say that he couldn’t be successful in a mainstream movie, I just think he could be legendary in horror movies with the right roles.

Despite everything that Painless does well, the ending just feels rushed and wrong, almost as if the screenwriter quit or the crew ran out of time to film. It doesn’t ruin the entire experience of the movie, but it certainly holds Painless back from achieving greatness. It’s really a shame about the ending, but Painless is absolutely worth checking out for everything leading up to the end.

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Fantasia 2012 – Errors of the Human Body Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Errors of the Human Body (2011)

Starring Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, Tomas Lemarquis, and Rik Mayall

Directed by Eron Sheean

Science and movies almost never seem to mix, especially if you’ve ever had any experience with the slow and rigorous beast that is scientific research. It’s understandable given that the average movie is about 100 minutes and the average scientific inquiry probably takes year to complete from start to finish. The two are certainly not the most compatible. That said, some filmmakers have still been able to do it justice. Even though Altered States deals with pseudo-scientific material, it really feels like a scientific movie, and a damn good one at that. Errors of the Human body started off quite well and got me hoping for the next ‘Altered States’, however the story was taken in a different direction than I was anticipating and without as much impact to the viewer as could have been possible. The result is an odd film that is at times beautiful and intelligent, while at others a little confusing and not as hard hitting as it could have been.

Geoff Burton (Eklund) is a controversial scientist whose fame or notoriety is direct result of loss he has experienced. Burton and his now ex-wife lost their infant son to a rare genetic disorder, and now Burton’s goal is to use his son as an example to understand and prevent these sad stories in the future. Far from eugenics, Burton has developed a method of screening embryos in order to detect rare genetic illnesses. In a move to the cold and wintry landscape of Dresden, Germany; Burton reunites with an old student, Rebekka, also an old flame, who may be on the brink of an incredible discovery that would have incredible implications for Burton’s research. However, the research environment has the same kind of cutthroats previously found on the high seas, maybe even worse. Burton and Rebekka must work together to protect her discovery from a creepy scientist named Jarek who has ambitious plans of his own.

Errors of the Human Body features some beautifully appropriate photography of the frozen landscape of Dresden, the equally cold confines of research laboratories, and images of cells through the lens of a microscope. The world of science is really all about the micro as it relates to the macro and Errors mirrors this perfectly, especially in the first-half of the film. The images of cells and microscopes are lightyears away from the absurdity of 2011’s The Thing, in which I had to stifle my laughter as alien cells assimilated human cells in a parody of real science. Even though ‘real’ science will never have a place in a feature film, Errors does a remarkable job getting as close to the discipline as possible, creating a very plausible research environment.

The performances are quite solid across the board with the very creepy Lemarquis turning in the best performance in my books. It’s a shame that the script doesn’t have darker avenues for Lemarquis’ character to venture down, but I suppose the story didn’t call for it. Eklund does some serious brooding throughout the movie while still remaining a character who audiences should care about. He mentioned during the introduction to the film that he initially had no interest in traveling to Germany for a shoot. I wonder if Eklund channeled his personal wishes to get out of this frozen environment into his character, contributing to his solid performance as Burton. If I was in his position, I sure would have tried.

Errors tells the story chosen by the filmmakers, but it was a bit disappointing as certain scenes early in the film hint of very dark implications which are only partially realized. Errors could have turned into a frightening horror or sci-fi piece, but instead is happy to stay a drama or character piece. I have to admit that it is fairly successful as a character driven story, but I would have liked something more fantastical given the hints early on in the film. Finally, it was clear what the filmmakers were saying about their characters, but what they were saying about science, if anything, was a little harder to understand. This film could certainly be interpreted as anti-technology or anti-science by some, regardless of the intentions of the filmmakers, but I hope this isn’t the case. There are enough anti-science voices these days who don’t understand that science cannot commit atrocities, only people can. Science and technology are no more inherently evil than the brain of a newborn child.

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