June 10, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Dena Hysell-Cornejo and Isak Borg
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi/horror film “Algorithm: Bliss” has a predominantly white cast (with one Asian character and one African American character) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two inventors with a medical background face ethical issues after they discover a way to transfer emotions from one human being to another—through brain waves and computer technology—and some of their experiments go very wrong.
Culture Audience: “Algorithm: Bliss” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly acted, low-budget horror flicks.
“Algorithm: Bliss” had a lot of potential to be a memorable high-tech horror film, but the movie’s best ideas are wasted on a flimsy plot and uneven, subpar acting from several of the movie’s cast members. When the movie doesn’t what know what to do next, it just resorts to violence and bloody gore that’s supposed to be shocking, but it’s really not very original to any horror aficionado.
Directed by Dena Hysell-Cornejo and Isak Borg, “Algorithm: Bliss” takes too much time (about two-thirds of the film) to get to the horror of the story. Instead, the movie starts off as a straightforward drama with sci-fi elements. In the beginning of the film, it’s shown that Vic Beckett (played by Sean Faris) and his nerdy best friend Henry (played by Seth Krischner) are Harvard medical students who’ve gotten into some serious legal trouble (the details aren’t revealed until later in the movie) and they’ve been asked to leave the school.
The matter is serious enough that Vic and Henry are shown in a meeting with an attorney, who tells them that they should take a deal that has been offered to them. A distraught Vic says, “I’ll never practice medicine again.” What exactly happened? A big clue is in the movie’s opening scene when Vic is shown performing an autopsy in a pathology lab.
After being expelled from medical school, Vic is seen at a snooty cocktail party by himself, looking very uncomfortable. A blonde named Elizabeth (played by Sarah Roemer) approaches him and they start to make small talk. She admits that she’s also not a fan of this boring atmosphere at the party, and says as an icebreaker, “I hate these things, don’t you?”
Elizabeth tells Vic that her job is coordinating housing and social services for homeless people. Vic won’t tell her what he does for a living, but he hints that it’s something scientific that will be so big, “it if all works out, it could change the world.”
There’s an obvious attraction between Vic and Elizabeth, but there’s also a problem: She has a boyfriend named Robert (played by Ryan Farrell), who’s at the party. Robert makes it clear from the way he shows up and kisses Elizabeth at the party that she’s his girlfriend and not available to flirt with anyone. And it just so happens that Robert is Vic’s former roommate from Harvard.
When Vic and Robert have a moment alone at the party, Robert shames Vic by telling him that this is an alumni party and Vic isn’t welcome there, since Vic never graduated. Before Vic slinks off in embarrassment, Elizabeth sees Vic leaving, and she asks him where he’s going. Vic makes an excuse that he just has to be somewhere else.
Meanwhile, Vic and Henry have been working in a lab, where they’ve been secretly experimenting on transferring memories from one being to another through a non-invasive way of attaching wired patches to the head and making the transfer by computer technology. Henry and Vic have been experimenting on rats that they put through a maze. However, Henry believes that it’s not just sense memories that can be transferred, but emotions can also be transferred.
Henry pressures a reluctant Vic to start trying this experiment on humans, and Henry volunteers to be the one to have his emotions transplanted by someone else’s. An unidentified man is part of the experiment, and it seems to work very well. Henry describes the feeling about having his emotions transplanted: “It feels like I couldn’t imagine worry about anything, like everything was just good.”
Henry explains that it’s not the same feeling as getting high on a drug: “It’s a feeling of peace, like a mother’s hug—not like my mother’s, of course, but an ideal mother.” This experiment’s blissful effect on humans gets Vic really excited about the possibilities, but he wants to take the experiment further.
Vic later tells Henry, “I want to test this on someone who’s truly problematic.” And this is where the movie’s plot starts to go downhill. Vic pays an orderly at a psychiatric institution to let Vic take a deranged and violent man (played by Thomas Kopache), who’s still strapped to his gurney bed, out of the psych institution and to the lab. While at the lab, the psych patient starts angrily ranting and forcefully trying to get out of the bed.
But when the patient is hooked up to the experimental equipment, Henry is able to transfer calm and happy emotions to the patient. The patient goes from acting like a rabid dog to acting like a docile child. The patient says to Vic in a blissful voice, “Thank you.”
Although Vic and Henry are elated at the findings of this experiment, they end up getting fired by their no-nonsense boss Dr. Stein (played by James Saito), who found out through video-surveillance footage that Vic illegally brought a psychiatric patient onto the work premises and experimented on him. However, Vic and Henry’s dismissal from their jobs doesn’t deter their enthusiasm for their discovery.
They decide to launch a start-up company to make their “emotion transplant” invention available as an app that can be marketed to consumers. The idea is to have the emotions transferred from people who are hooked up to a machine at the company headquarters. People around the world will be able to access the emotions through an app that will be connected to a wireless wristband worn by people who sign up for the app.
Vic and Henry name their new company and app Mudita (pronounced “moo-deetah”) and have a meeting with potential investors. Vic, who’s the alpha male of the pair, does all the talking in the sales pitch, but he gets flustered and nervous in trying to explain this invention, so the meeting is a disaster. One of the potential investors even questions Vic’s sanity and asks Vic when he’s going to check back in the psych ward.
As a dejected Vic and Henry leave the meeting, one of the men from the meeting catches up to them in the office lobby and tells Vic and Henry that he’s interested in their invention. His name is Kirwin (played by Frank Deal), and he offers to buy a 51% stake in the company. In exchange, Kirwin says that Vic and Henry can run Mudita any way that they want to run the business. Vic and Henry immediately accept Kirwin’s offer.
It isn’t long before Vic and Henry start beta testing the invention with more people. Kirwin observes some of the experiments, by watching them on video monitors. During a four-way video monitor observation, one of the testing patients has an adverse reaction to the experiment. Instead of being calm and peaceful, he acts as if he’s hallucinating something terrible.
Vic rushes in the room to take the wires off of the distressed man. Kirwin begins to have doubts about his investment in Mudita, but Vic assures Kirwin that this was a minor issue that can be fixed. “The tracking was too long,” Vic explains to Kirwin.
Meanwhile, Sarah breaks up with Robert to be with Vic. Sarah and Vic have a passionate love affair, and they end up living together. And after eight months of dating each other, Vic secretly buys an engagement ring. Things are apparently going so well for Vic and Henry, they have enough money where Henry is now attracting “Russian models” to date, according to Vic. (Viewers actually never see anything about Henry’s personal life, since almost all of the characters in the movie are written in a very two-dimensional way.)
Once the beta testing is done, Mudita will be available for sale. Word has gotten out to the public about the app, thanks to a high-profile TV appearance Vic has made on an Oprah Winfrey-styled talk show hosted by Crystal Blue (played by Kimberley Locke), who tries out Mudita on the show. Crystal loves the results, and gives the app an enthusiastic endorsement.
Even before the Mudita app is for sale, it has 2 million pre-orders. To celebrate the success of the pre-launch, Mudita throws a party, complete with a celebrity appearance by “American Chopper” star Paul Teutul Sr. as himself. But it isn’t all smooth sailing for Mudita.
On a business TV network (similar to CNBC or Bloomberg), three analysts give their opinions if Mudita stock would be a good investment if the company goes public. One analyst says Mudita would be a great investment, one analyst is neutral, while one analyst warns that the investment would be too risky.
The public attention for Mudita, with Vic as the frontman for the company, also means that Vic’s background is facing scrutiny. His exit from Harvard Medical School and his scientific credentials are being called into question by scientists and other skeptical parties. Although the circumstances of Vic and Henry’s ouster from Harvard Medical School are supposed to be part of a confidential settlement, it doesn’t take long for rumors to leak that Vic and Henry’s forced exit was for scandalous reasons.
And it’s not just scientists who are questioning the ethics of Mudita. Religious leaders are also condemning Mudita for trying to “play God” with people’s emotions. Vic tries to do damage control by appearing on a cable TV news network called Newsline on the prominent “Becky Sanders Show.” Instead of it being a good PR move, the interview is a humiliating mess for Vic, as host Becky Sanders (played by Leslie Marshall) interrogates Vic, who’s caught off-guard and does a terrible job of defending himself. (It’s actually one of the best scenes in the movie.)
Things get worse for Vic in his job and his personal life. And this is where the horror part of the movie kicks in—he starts making drastic and desperate decisions in order to save the business. He says it’s not about the money, but for the greater good of humanity.
Unfortunately, “Algorithm: Bliss” is such a poorly conceived movie, that there’s not much that can be improved from this ridiculous plot. (The screenplay was co-written by co-director Borg and Golan Ramraz.) Even if there’s an alternate world where technology like Mudita could exist, the movie has a laughable portrayal of the company headquarters as a dark and dingy warehouse-styled place, which is definitely not equipped to serve at least 2 million customers. This is a low-budget movie, but the production design is still very amateurish.
Another big problem is that none of the characters has a meaningful personality. Vic and Henry’s expulsion from Harvard Medical School is the only backstory that’s presented in the movie. Meanwhile, Faris (whose Vic character is the main focus of the story) is just not a very good actor, since he over-acts in some scenes and is very wooden in other scenes. Some of the supporting actors in the “horror” scenes also ham it up too much, so that the acting almost becomes campy, even though the movie takes itself way too seriously.
The pacing of “Algorithm: Bliss” sometimes drags, which makes this thriller a lot more boring than it should be. And the “twist” at the end of the film isn’t very surprising, since anyone who’s seen enough sci-fi movies about “change the world” type of inventions can easily predict what can happen when these inventions are no longer a secret.
“Algorithm: Bliss” might have been a better movie if it continued with the concept that is presented in the very last scene of the film. Instead, the movie lazily becomes just another forgettable horror flick in the last third of the film, with lots of bloody mayhem to try to make up for the weak storyline and plot holes.
Green Apple Entertainment released “Algorithm: Bliss” on digital and VOD on June 2, 2020.