To its credit, vampire movie Painkillers finds a relatively fresh entry point to a subgenre that has been sucked dry. But that’s about as much praise as can be dished out for a story this preposterous. The inherent silliness of the premise and implausible actions of the characters wouldn’t be such a bad thing if director Roxy Shih didn’t posture her film as so deadly serious. But the cast and crew are unable to wring a drop of levity or fun out of the clunky script for this thriller, making Painkillers the kind of self-indulgent misfire that’s relatively entertaining simply as a cautionary display of woeful storytelling decisions.

As skilled as our protagonist John (Adam Huss) reportedly is as a surgeon, he’s not all that tremendous of a driver. Not only does he recklessly goof around with young son (Tate Birchmore) by turning off the headlights for 10 seconds at a time while navigating dark stretches of woodland highway, but he also can’t seem to keep the car on the road with the lights on. After he wrecks for no reason in particular, John awakens in a hospital two days later only to be informed by wife, Chloe (Madeline Zima), that their son wasn’t so lucky. John, who (rightfully) blames himself for the accident and his son’s death, immediately begins to spasm with psychosomatic pain derived from the unbearable guilt and trauma. Sedatives and opioids do nothing for him. But when he happens to cut his hand, he soon discovers that the only way to soothe his pain and stop the tremors is by slurping down a little of the red stuff.

Of course, his own supply won’t cut it for long. And unfortunately, raiding barnyards or blood banks won’t do either. He needs it fresh and warm and human. Ludicrously, his boss Gail (Debra Wilson)—evidently operating in a world where the legal concepts of liability and gross negligence do not exist—allows John back into the operating room only days after his seemingly miraculous recovery. But he’s almost as bad at stealing biohazardous O.R. waste as he is at keeping cars on pavement. When his plasma pilfering goes awry, he’s lured in by Herb (Grant Bowler), a debonair (if a bit menacing) businessman who reveals that he suffers from the same rare condition as John—and acquired in one of the towers on 9/11, no less. In fact, Herb has built a mini-empire out of supplying the afflicted, who each suffer from psychic pain derived from a unique combination of PTSD and guilt, with the only thing that temporarily cures what ails them. And yet at no point do the exposition-heavy exchanges between Herb and John offer any specifics as to why in the hell drinking blood pulls off such a nifty trick. Seems like something a brilliant surgeon might want to get to the bottom of, but not John.

What makes even less sense is John’s feelings of moral superiority. When he finds out Herb elaborately drains blood from pedophiles and other predatory scum he keeps alive in order to maintain his supply, John is outraged, even though his righteous anger leads John to beat one of the predators (James Logan) to a bloody pulp. And in the ultimate confrontation between the two, John leaves Herb trapped in a way that ensures Herb will suffer enormously before eventually starving to death. John is supposedly heroic because he’s causing a torturous death in order to prevent the torture and death of predators who cause torture and death? That’s some mighty shaky moral high ground he’s standing on, there, but the irony of his actions is lost on John.

In case the title and Huss’ cartoonish convulsions and overacting in the lead role weren’t enough of a clue, Painkillers leans even harder into its point of equating this particular brand of bloodlust with the throes of addiction. John ultimately decides to go cold turkey and live his life with supposedly unbearable pain that nevertheless doesn’t seem to stop him from functioning. This is a film that wraps itself in the trappings of grief, addiction and trauma, and yet has very little interest in honestly exploring any of these heavy themes. And it’s a lousy vampire movie to boot.

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