Bliss is a festival film through and through. It’s gathered a reputation as a blood-soaked, frenzied nightmare at various festivals around the world, including FrightFest where it won Total Film’s Best Film prize. It’s the kind of film people who missed it at the various festivals (including yours truly) will experience severe FOMO (fear of missing out) over.
Bliss finally makes it grand debut in home cinema and all us hungry gorehounds can finally catch it on glorious Blu-ray and what a trip Bliss proves out to be.
The title refers to a new drug, named probably after the insane high it produces. Dezzy is an artist in a severe rut. The creative block has hit her hard and she is behind on her rent and her agent drops her as she asks for yet another extension on her new piece for a gallery, run by the bitchy Nikki. Dezzy visits her drug dealer in search of something to help her create and to take her mind off her worries. She is introduced to the new drug, which Dezzy thinks can’t really hurt at this point. Bliss indeed does fuel her artistic vision and productiveness, but it also comes with terrible hallucinations and weird new cravings.
Bliss is a nasty little film. It’s gory, loud, violent, a truly visceral experience. Its biggest weakness is its reliance on a stream of consciousness type of storytelling. It goes from point A to point B but doesn’t necessarily make enough stops for the audience to really engage with Dezzy and her story. Bliss will work in a dark auditorium as a shared experience between 100 other people, but it’s not quite as effective on the smaller screen as one would hope.
The film features a lot of hardcore metal as well as a hypnotic score by Steve Moore. The several scenes including songs, sometimes performed on stage in the background of whatever scene we’re dropped in, make Bliss sometimes feel like an extended, amateur music video. Towards the end, there are significantly less of these and the film is all the stronger for it. When the stakes get higher, the highs get higher and the film sweeps you up in its sweaty, gory world.
Dora Madison, who plays Dezzy is never anything less than compelling. Although the dialogue is a little clunky at times, Madison carries the entire film on her shoulders with a fearless performance. Nothing is as hard as playing a protagonist who is unlikable and has questionable morals, but Madison opens herself up and commits to the role ferociously.
Writer-director Joe Begos has crafted a very singular experience, a film that tries to pry a physical reaction out of its viewer. It never relies solely on the gallons and gallons of fake blood it uses, but the artistic block as the source of its horror. Dezzy’s creative struggles are relatable, even if Dezzy as a character is less than likable. If Begos’ film wasn’t such a physically horrifying experience, there would be very little to be impressed here.
But impressive Bliss is. While it doesn’t have much to say, there is still some serious observations to be made about substance-abuse. It’s excessive and at times it feels too liberal with the drug use, but the further we descent into Dezzy’s nightmare, the less we understand the appeal of drugs. The central conflict in the heart of Bliss is, is the painting worth this nightmare? Anyone with a creative streak understands the pain of creating and the seriousness of not being able to create, but what’s too much? When is the art not worth the pain anymore? We all know some of the best art can sometimes come from pain, but surely ripping people’s throats out with your bare teeth is a step too far? Bliss doesn’t necessarily answer any of the questions it poses, but there is plenty to enjoy here.
Dir: Joe Begos
Scr: Joe Begos
Cast: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield
Prd: Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, Lyle Kanouse, Caroline Metz, Graham Skipper, Audrey Wasilewski
DOP: Mike Testin
Music: Steve Moore
Runtime: 80 min
Bliss is released on Blu-Ray 10th of February, 2020.