Amazon’s latest big-name flick, Bliss, is very curiously categorized as “horror.”
If you’re looking for scary dolls, little girls with revolving heads, or even a surprise that makes you jump, you won’t find it here. Bliss‘s brand of horror is much more subtle and much more real–ironically so, because this horror is all about not knowing what’s reality and what’s fiction in our own lives.
Mike Cahill’s story follows Greg (Owen Wilson), whose life appears to be totally monotonous, and yet, the strangest things keep happening to him: his boss dies right before his eyes; he suddenly can’t get his pain meds refilled; he meets a woman who knows more about him than she should.
This woman, Isabel (Salma Hayek), seems to have all the answers that Greg needs. She teaches him how to recognize what’s real, and how be more in control of his world… a world that, in fact, she has a peculiar amount of control over as well.
But Isabel’s notions of reality and control are directly challenged by Emily (Nesta Cooper), Greg’s daughter. Emily is on a mission to pull Greg out of his confusion in an entirely different way. Eventually, Greg has to choose between Isabel’s and Emily’s truths.
My description of the story is intentionally vague, because part of the fun of this movie is trying to figure out exactly what’s happening. There are clues to follow: colors, objects, characters… and the viewer won’t know until the last scene what is true, who is in control, and whether the film is in fact horror, science fiction, thriller, or something else entirely.
Final answers aside, Bliss presents a wild ride and a fascinating study of human nature, science, and society. Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, and Nesta Cooper’s performances each bring an entirely different tone, and together they all work. The writing is smart and the overall messages–and emotions–will have the viewer thinking and feeling about the movie long after it’s over. And the cinematography and visual tone is as creative and enticing as the rest of the story.
There are pieces that don’t make sense, but they’re what Alfred Hitchcock would have called “icebox talk”: elements that confuse you, but just enough to make it enjoyable to debate about it over a couple of drinks from the “icebox.” This movie is certainly best watched with a buddy, pausing to make predictions, search for clues, and muse as to what the whole thing is all about.
Bliss feels like a cross between Midnight in Paris (another Owen Wilson flick exploring fiction versus reality) and Inception. If you like working alongside a confused guy trying to figure out which way is up, and maybe learning something about humanity in the process, you’re in for a treat.
The Bottom Line
Bliss delivers the horror in a way you’d never expect, skillfully telling a story that will have viewers questioning what’s happening on the screen as well as the nature of reality itself.