Bliss is about Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado), a former child star who signed up to be part of a movie intended for foreign festivals. She has an accident on set that leaves her unable to walk under her own power. She recovers in her house, with no company other than her jobless husband (TJ Trinidad) and a strangely unsympathetic nurse (Adrienne Vega). Beyond the crushing monotony of her life in the house, there is something not quite right about her situation. Reality and fiction fold into each other as Jane struggles to find a way out of her predicament.There are two levels of horror in this movie. There is a more straightforward approach taken in the scenes of Jane in her house, where she is made to question her sanity as she encounters all manner of strangeness. And there is a second, more compelling level of terror as the film delves into the cruelty of the people that surround her; the different forms of abuse that she encounters in her relationships with the people that ostensibly care for her. While the film is reasonably effective in the former, it is much more interesting the more it focuses on the latter.The film mainly gets its more straightforward scares from a general sense of disorientation. Jane doesn’t seem to be in control of her reality, and she is shunted from one strange scene after another. Everything she encounters is mysterious to some degree, and a lot of tension comes from Jane being unable to cope with the way her reality is changing right in front of her. And while there is some base appeal to all this, while these sequences provide many of the visceral pleasures that most associate with the genre, the film is playing at bigger games that make a lot of this feel like an extraneous obligation.This intricately structured story really comes to life as it leaves the house and examines the violence in Jane’s life that isn’t so literal. The film exhibits real wit as it paints a picture of the larger world surrounding the actress, exploring a cast of characters that have become monstrous in the way that they deal with Jane. The film’s most effective sequences don’t really involve the supernatural, or the depiction of bloody bodily harm. The movie wrings true horror out of the callousness of people, and the way society as a whole just seems to tolerate certain kinds of abuse.There is a studied precision to this film that can feel cold at times, but it plays up emotions at all the right points. A terrific cast helps bring warmth to the film’s polemic. Iza Calzado brings a sense of frenzy to the heroine that speaks of the character’s status in surprising and resonant ways. Adrienne Vergara is a revelation in this film, the actress bringing all manner of menace while playing at surprising complexity. Audie Gemora is fantastic as well, easily conveying the monstrous nature of his character in the most casual of lines. TJ Trinidad fully commits to the emasculation of his character, and finds sympathetic notes in noxious behavior. And Shamaine Buencamino finds just the right notes to express the caring parent within her character’s calculating exterior.The way Bliss couches its commentary in genre trappings is exceedingly clever, but not altogether satisfying. The very nature of this story softens the blow of the traditional horror sequences, and one starts to wonder if the film could have done away with them completely. Still, one can only admire the craft on display, and the ways in which the film wrings terror out of the seemingly mundane, finding the monstrous in people in the most normal of circumstances.
BLISS OPENS ON MAY 10 IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.