Artikulo Uno Productions
An inventive and highly enjoyable psychological thriller from Jerrold Tarog (Heneral Luna)…
by Andrew Heskins
Versatile director Jerrold Tarog follows Heneral Luna, the highest grossing historical film ever in the Philippines, with the rather different Bliss; a psychological thriller starring popular TV and film actors Iza Calzado (Kahit puso’y masugatan, Haunted Mansion), Ian Veneracion (I Heart You Pare, Feng Shui 2) and TJ Trinidad (The Road, Saving Sally). The film had its World Premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017, where Calzado was awarded the Yakushi Pearl Award for the most brilliant performer among all participating films’ cast members.
Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) has been a star since a young age. With her face emblazoning beauty products her popularity shows no sign of waning, but she lacks the respect she so desperately desires, ‘always doing the same thing’ as she puts it. Deciding to produce the film herself that will give her a game-changing role, she suffers a disastrous accident on the final day of shooting that cripples her.
She awakes in a giant house, full of empty rooms and mysterious voices. Looked after by her husband Carlo (Ian Veneracion) and a cruel nurse Lillibeth (Adrienne Vergara), she seems trapped in the house with no other link to the outside world. Like a nightmarish Groundhog Day, events repeat themselves, but more distorted and horrific each time. As we begin to find out the similarities of the film with her current situation, Jane starts to fear for her own sanity.
As Jane’s ordeal continues, we build up a picture of the lives around her, from her pushy mother (Shamaine Buencamino, REquieme!, Nino), to her camp director (Audie Gemora) and useless husband Carlo. We also hear about a nurse wanted by the police for sexually molesting her patients, and start to join up the dots, before things just start getting even stranger.
Such tropes may not be anything new in horror, but writer director Jerrold Tarog cherry picks the best of those to create something wholly enjoyable. From Polanski’s Repulsion to Sergio Martino’s All The Colors of The Dark, questions of sanity and trust make good bedfellows for psychological thriller. Indeed, Tarog fills the film with playful references to the source material. The ‘film within a film’ Bliss is called that because it’s the reverse of the onscreen director’s favourite film, Misery, but also for of the plot similarity; the nurse later describes herself as Jane’s ‘biggest fan’. In a scene from the film, one of the characters says she ‘needs a Totem, cause you’ve been Inceptioned’.
Such witty dialogue gives a knowing smile to the audience, who particularly in the Philippines can no doubt read the parallels between the cast and the real world, adding a whole other level of ‘meta’ to the proceedings. Tarog keeps the pace of the film firing throughout, while changing and warping the events so the repetition doesn’t drag. While there’s fun to be had, particularly from Adrienne Vergara as the menacing nurse Lillibeth, it’s lead Calzado that really does standout thanks to throwing herself into her role with such gusto. The really ‘meta’ part being that this could indeed give her a career boost.
True, the mystery of the film may not exactly keep you guessing to the final reel, but when the journey is this much fun it doesn’t have to. This is a well-constructed, intelligent slice of entertainment that does exactly that. Highly recommended.