Many high-concept indies are content to rely on the charms of their logline, but “Painless” adds flesh and muscle to what could have been a bare-bones idea. This character-driven thriller gives specificity to small scenes, engaging the audience in each moment.
Henry (Joey Klein) lives a solitary existence, defined solely by a condition that renders him unable to feel physical pain — and leaves him in constant danger. A cup of coffee could scald him, and a seemingly innocent fall could cause internal bleeding. With the help of his doctor (Kip Gilman), he tries to find a cure, but when Henry can’t get an ingredient he needs for his experiments, he resorts to working with a scientist (Pascal Yen-Pfister) who may not have his best interests at heart. Meanwhile, a sympathetic woman (Evalena Marie) whom he meets on the subway draws him out of his isolation.
Written and directed by Jordan Horowitz (not the “La La Land’ producer), “Painless” refuses to rest on its stylish visuals. The script doesn’t simply focus on Henry’s genetic issue and its larger implications for his life; instead, we experience it with him, as he takes small, daily steps to ensure his safety. Henry isn’t always likable, but this approach further humanizes him and makes “Painless” a compelling watch beyond its central idea.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 21, Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills