Proliferating quicker than a horny hybrid of tribbles and bunnies, streaming services now offer more original films than any sane human can reasonably watch. The emphasis in that sentence is on the word sane…
Somehow, in the span of a few hours, I watched both Horse Girl on Netflix and Bliss on Shudder. Here are things that these movies have in common:
- A young woman’s slow descent into madness
- Metaphorical interference by a supernatural or otherworldly force
- A brief appearance by a formerly beloved sitcom icon from previous decades (Paul Reiser and George Wendt, respectively)
- An unreasonable amount of mournful contemplation while showering
- Frequent discussions of paints and paintings
Comparing them is stupid and silly, as they occupy two vastly different genres and production levels. So let’s do it!
Horse Girl follows Sarah (Alison Brie), a sad and socially awkward craft store employee whose family history includes an allegedly mentally ill grandmother who died homeless and a mother who recently died by suicide. Just after her birthday, she begins having dreams that lead her to believe she is either a clone being used as a “human thermometer,” a time traveler, an alien abductee, or all three.
Bliss follows Dezzy (Dora Madison), a painter who decides to spark the kindling of an artistic dry spell via the “Charlie Sheen maneuver,” which consists of just a buncha drugs. Specifically, she chooses a cocaine/hallucinogen called “bliss” that is labeled “Diablo.” A few snorts later, she’s maybe a vampire and definitely covered in lots of blood. Enduring the tepid, cliched drug spiral of the film’s first half earns you the reward of bonkers practical horror effects guts-n-gore set to epilepsy-inducing strobe effects and grimy punk music.
Both films traffic in blatant metaphor (although only Bliss has a shitty quasi-transphobic “joke”). Sarah’s journey in Horse Girl is a tragic grappling with genetic predisposition towards an unspecified but clearly dangerous mental health condition. The film has been blasted for an ambiguous ending that, quite frankly, seemed pretty appropriate and deftly nuanced to me. Brie and cowriter Jeff Baena’s script doesn’t feel lazy or noncommittal. The conclusion is meaningfully painful and actually felt like an invitation to revisit the film, a privilege afforded to streaming flicks that is too rarely exploited.
Bliss is intentionally more simplistic. Writer/director Joe Begos wasn’t trying to nimbly investigate the dark side of creative expression so much as he wanted a canvas upon which to slather neon-tinted intestines. Even at just 80 minutes, Bliss feels more labored. A madcap grotesque vampire romp doesn’t require nearly an hour of setup, especially when the moral seems to be “don’t do drugs, kids.” And yet, so few films deliver this kind of throwback cartoonish carnage…
Although the sheer volume sometimes gives me FOMO anxiety, the oceans of original content available for PJs-on-the-couch consumption allow us to scratch any hyper-specific genre itch. If you’re in the mood for an offbeat and sad mental health fable that feels like a 1990s indie dramedy that fell asleep watching The X-Files, give Horse Girl a spin. If you want to gargle chocolate-syrup blood and don’t mind questionable performances and drug culture cliches, put some Bliss in your nostrils.
One quick, final aside: You know Netflix but maybe not Shudder. Give the horror-specific streaming service a chance! They have both Tigers Are Not Afraid and One Cut of the Dead, which more than justifies giving their 7-day free trial a go. Unless, of course, you don’t like the spooky. Then just go back to scrolling through Disney Plus to find the one new thing they’ve added in the last month or so…
Horse Girl = A-
Bliss = B-