The psychological-horror genre is relatively new to Filipino movies, mostly due to the local studios enabling an overlong cycle of ripping off Asian horror movies. Continuing the resurgence of Filipino cinema is Bliss, a psychological-horror movie that knew how to fuck with audiences – figuratively and literally.
Bliss follows actress Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) after she survives a near-fatal accident on the set of her latest film. Paralyzed below the waist, Jane learns that the house she’s recovering in is more akin to a prison, where suspicious people and sinister forces conspire to keep her from discovering a dark truth as her perception of reality crumbles.
For all intents and purposes, Bliss has no right to exist. But like former porn stars serving in public office, Bliss is a reality that some may feel discomfort with – though unlike the former, Bliss is a welcome change of pace.
Deviance Is Bliss
When I say Bliss has no right to exist, I mean that in the best possible way because it’s not like most Filipino movies. If it were pitched to studios a decade earlier, Bliss would never have made it past the drawing board because some stupid studio head would prioritize what sponsors and what the ornery fucks at the local ratings board had to say over financing anything with artistic merit.
In a few words, Bliss is expertly made. From the simple yet striking visuals to the disturbing story of repressed fears among many other fucked up things, Bliss is a textbook psychological-thriller crafted to near-perfection. It also helps that the actors on board gave it their all, bringing the necessary escalating emotions and tensions to life. Even if it could be said that some of the people Jane interacts with are generic stereotypes, they still serve a purpose and Bliss wouldn’t be the same without these darker and more serious takes on familiar archetypes.
At worst, those who’ve seen enough psychological-thrillers in the past may be able to predict what happens next before all the pieces of the puzzle are dropped. However, this does little to take away from the fact that Bliss is still a mystery worth following. All this says is that I need to stop watching too many goddamned movies and maybe get a life while I’m at it.
Mysteriously Blown Load
Bliss is the kind of thriller that’s put together well, but closer examination reveals a few cracks in the otherwise air-tight mystery movie at hand. Again, this does little to erode the film’s status as a Grade-A thriller, but it denies an otherwise impressive movie from achieving perfection.
Without giving away too much, the central conflict of Bliss finds Jane in a surreal mix of reality and insanity that continually fucks with her mind, while also finding new ways to do so in each passing scene. If the whole movie was built on this premise, Bliss would have successfully created its desired nightmarish dreamlike experience with flying colors. Yet for some reason, the causes and explanations behind these events are almost immediately revealed before the second act even kicks in. Seemingly too excited to say the punchline, Bliss nearly wastes a good set-up by prematurely blowing its load and reveals the secret behind the ongoing mindfuckery too early.
Since the ending is a foregone conclusion for those who were able to catch the jig or unveil a good amount of the mysteries by the movie’s one hour mark, Jane’s struggles switches from a matter between life and death to a waiting game where the audience just witnesses the mystery solve itself. Scenes that are meant to explain everything from a certain character’s perspective came off as spoon-feeding rather than self-explanatory, and shortening or outright cutting a few of these would have benefited the movie’s final run time.
Despite these and a particular depiction of sexual deviance that will rub some people the wrong way due to the real-life sensitivity of the issue, Bliss manages to keep viewers guessing and enthralled in Jane’s torment, leaving them eager yet fearful of what lies ahead for the trapped actress. It’s a testament to director Jerrold Tarog’s skills as a filmmaker that these minor gripes do nothing to affect the overall quality of Bliss, because a weaker director would have surely let these fuck the entire movie up.
The Right Dementia
For those familiar with psychological-thrillers, Bliss may not offer anything new but it’s still a great example of the genre at work. For those new to the genre or at least those who nearly gave up on Filipino cinema, Bliss is a demented miracle to behold that shows the medium’s capability when let loose, free from the bondage of outdated studio mandates and enforced product placement.
Bliss will disgust and offend certain viewers (conservative moviegoers, be warned), but this is exactly what Filipino cinema needs: a good dose of deviance and malice with no pretentious, mean-spirited bullshit attached. The shocking elements of Bliss are there for good reason, and they’re not just some sick director’s fetish being shat out on screen.
If you’re of age and prepared for some disturbing cinema, Bliss deserves your time of day. Not only because it’s a great movie, but to spite the dumb local motherfuckers who tried to ban it with an X-rating despite giving the insult to intelligence that is Fifty Shades Darker an uncut, R-18 pass.
Yes, that really happened.
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