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IFI Horrorthon 2019 Review - BLISS

bliss review
A struggling artist receives a creative boost from a mysterious drug.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joe Begos

Starring: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt

bliss poster




From Toulouse-Lautrec necking absinthe in 19th century Paris to The Beatles dropping acid in the 1960s, artists have long dabbled with chemistry as a means of fuelling their creativity. In writer/director Joe Begos' headtrip Bliss, one drug (the titular synthetic psychedelic) leads to another (human blood) as a struggling painter's creativity is given a major boost. It's a portrait of an artist as a young vampire.

bliss review


The artist is Dezzy (Dora Madison), a painter whose foul mouth and refusal to sell out, along with her inability to deliver her work on time, has led her to dire financial straits. Her advance for her latest commission has run out, her landlord is beating down her door, and she's just been dropped by her agent. Deciding she needs to cope with the stress she's largely created for herself, Dezzy visits her friendly neighbourhood drug dealer, who introduces her to 'Bliss', a new synthetic drug, which he advises she take in very small doses.

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Dezzy takes more than the recommended dose, and wakes up several hours later, with a full blown party now raging at the dealer's house. She meets a pair of friends, Courtney (Tru Collins) and her boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield), with whom she engages in a heated menage a trois while under the influence of Bliss. Desperate to experience that ecstatic feeling once more, Dezzy hooks up with Courtney the following evening and the two indulge in some more Bliss, along with a bit of homicide, as Courtney murders a young woman in a bathroom stall before drinking her blood. Dezzy partakes too, and now she's hooked not only on Bliss, but on human claret.

bliss review


Over the years, filmmakers have attempted to recreate the experience of a drug trip through the medium of cinema, but they've largely failed (not that I would know personally, but I've been reassured by...friends). The New Orleans sequence of Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider is probably the closest a filmmaker has gotten to conveying a bad trip on screen (and if there was ever a filmmaker who knew what a bad trip was like, it was Hopper). Most filmmakers simply assault the viewer with headache inducing visuals, rapid cuts, oblique angles, washed out colours, discordant noise on the soundtrack etc, and that's what Begos largely resorts to here. Set in the Los Angeles hard rock scene, Bliss is one noisy movie, and when the 'trippy' throbbing neon visuals kick in, it all feels a little like a poor man's attempt to ape the distinct head-fuckery of Gaspar Noe.

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Narratively, Bliss owes much to Abel Ferrara, mashing up the "struggling artist turns homicidal" plot of The Driller Killer with the "young female vampire in a contemporary urban setting" hook of The Addiction, which similarly posited the vampire as an allegorical junkie. Transposing Ferrara's confrontational cinema from the dirty streets of New York to the sunny boulevards of Los Angeles, the last place on earth a traditional vampire might want to live, is about as fresh a take on the bloodsucking mythos that Begos delivers here.

bliss review


As with so many indie horror movies, Bliss lives or dies on the strength of its female lead, and I hope Begos gave Madison a very nice bottle of champagne at the end of his shoot as it's her performance that ultimately keeps you engaged. It's impossible to warm to her character - Dezzy is her own worst enemy, the sort of abrasive brat that gives artists a bad name - but Madison embodies her junkie desperation to such a full-on degree that you can't keep your eyes off her. Along with the chance to see Norm from Cheers get his arm torn off by a thirsty female vampire, Madison's manic turn is just about reason enough to try a hit of Bliss.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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