A squad of US soldiers are sent on a mission, deep into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan with orders to extract a mysterious top secret package. When they wake up in a top-secret military hospital with no recollection of how they got there, who they are, or what their mission was, they must face the bitter truth about how they ended up in Afghanistan to begin with and the betrayals that wiped out their minds and nearly destroyed their lives.
It’s quite obvious from having viewed “Painkillers” that the budget for the movie was microscopic. Compared to the majority of big-budget blockbusters that stream into movie theaters, I rather enjoy watching the lower-budgeted films, it allows me, not just as a movie lover and critic, but also as a filmmaker, the opportunity to see how well the producers and director can work within their constricted limitations. Sometimes, I am literally blown away at how good these movies are, other times, they’re just head-shakingly bad.
For “Painkillers,” I give the movie high marks because the filmmakers have created a clever and intelligent sci-fi thriller, infusing elements of “Total Recall” and “The Island” along the way. While there are some aspects of the movie that are cunning and inventive, there are other facets that are never fully explained, leaving you scratching your head in abstract bewilderment once the final credits begin to roll.
After Major Cafferty (Tahmoh Penikett) and his platoon wake up in a top-secret military hospital, oblivious as to how they got there and unable to remember who they are, Dr. Troutman (Colm Feore), the head physician, informs them that they were on a classified mission into the mountains of Afghanistan, with orders to retrieve a mysterious item. Seeing that none of them can recall anything, the doctors and nurses work with them daily, both physically and mentally, in the hopes that one by one, they will be able to remember what transpired on the mission so that the military can better understand exactly what went wrong.
When they are prescribed an experimental drug they are told will help them remember, Cafferty begins to experience momentary recollections of the mission and when the others begin to share similar encounters, it becomes apparent to them all, that their objective was to secure some sort of alien lifeforce. But one by one, as they succumb to strange and unusual nightmares and maniacal fits of rage, Cafferty must determine exactly what was enveloped within the alien artifact before they kill each other.
There are themes and elements throughout that have been utilized far more effectively in other movies but within the confines of this particular story, they are handled satisfactorily. Many will recognize Tahmoh Penikett as Captain Karl ‘Helo’ Agathon from “Battlestar Galactica” but even as the film’s protagonist, he is sorely underused. Colm Feore always plays the bad guy with relish and here is no different, when he flashes that malevolent smile, you just know he’s up to no good. The one glaring offense committed by the filmmakers, is that the mysterious lifeforce is never explained. Granted, that might have been the whole idea but realistically, it appears to be the victim of lazy screenwriting more than anything else. “Painkillers” isn’t the most original sci-fi thriller out there but it also isn’t the worst.
Available on DVD and Digital Video January 12th
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com