Director: Joe Begos
Script: Joe Begos
Cast: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper
Running time: 80min
Year: 2019
Country: USA
BBFC Certificate: 18

Dezzy is suffering from a creative block – her art is going nowhere and her agent is threatening to abandon her, leaving her to destitution and possible homelessness. In a fit of despair she tries a hallucinogenic new drug called Bliss; but, following a sexual encounter with a musician, is it the drug or something more nefarious that’s fuelling her new found lust for human blood?

Vampires certainly seem to be the more flexible pop culture monster; whether they’re gothic like the classic depiction in Dracula or Nosferatu, the result of a plague like virus as seen in The Strain or a campier evil as portrayed in Hammer classics and the likes of Blade and Buffy, there always seems to be something new for the humble bloodsucker. Abel Ferrara’s unsettlingly grungey film, The Addiction, portrayed vampirism as the result of an addiction following an attack by another creature of the night, and it’s very much this makeup that Joe Begos’ Bliss follows.

Out of the gate Bliss exudes a grimy, punk rock veneer with its grungey title sequence, and the image carries this through with its grain and negative crackle giving the impression of a 90’s low budget affair. The authenticity is likely down to the filmmaking on display here as Bliss was shot on 16mm film which only adds to the atmosphere and quality. But while there’s clearly influence from Ferrara here Begos also taps into the trippy, neon drenched imagery of French auteur Gaspar Noe.

Whether it be the unnatural camera movements during the hallucinations or the starkly explicit sex scenes, this influence is ever present and creates a jarring contrast with the sudden and brutal burts of violence that punctuate the story. From severed arteries to decapitations and other vampire induced injuries, Begos makes sure that the claret sprays appropriately when it’s needed. As the narrative progresses, the colour red becomes a significant part of the palette both in the image and in Dezzy’s emerging art. Arguably this reliance on colour as part of the narrative progression reminds one of Italian Giallo cinema and the works of directors such as Argento and Bava.

Indeed, this changing of visual styles lends the film a certain feel of performance art mixed with traditional cinema, particularly in Dora Madison’s incredibly game performance as Dezzy. She spends large chunks of the film naked and often covered in blood, writhing around to the heavy metal soundtrack as her own art becomes more and more demented. This gives the film, at times, the feel of a feature length Cradle of Filth music video.

And yet it is also this that ultimately, while not perhaps derailing the film, slows proceedings down in the last act. The narrative starts to delve into more metaphysical territory as the story progresses which, while not a bad thing in itself, is let down by some weak performances from the supporting cast, as well as an overlong and wonkily choreographed finale that feels slightly rushed to give the film an ending.

Still, Bliss is well worth a watch. A skeezy, punk rock nightmare that has plenty for those who can stomach the moments of violence and whacked out visuals that are esoteric, but never inaccessible. It’s also a great calling card for Begos’ emerging talent; this director is definitely one to watch.

Special features

  • Limited Edition O Card slipcase with silver laminate finish
  • Limited Edition Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and an interview with writer/director Joe Begos
  • Brand new audio commentary with film historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan (Daughters of Darkness podcast)
  • Audio commentary with director Joe Begos and actress Dora Madison
  • Audio Commentary by director Joe Begos, producer Josh Ethier, and the Russell FX team
  • Trailer

Unfortunately this release of Bliss isn’t exactly blessed with a wealth of bonus features. If you’re lucky to get hold of a limited edition copy, you’ll get a nice card slipcase and a collectors booklet which we sadly didn’t get a chance to look at. Other than that, there’s three commentaries and a trailer to look forward to.

Bliss
3.5Overall Score
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One Response

  1. David Brook

    I’d call 3 commentaries pretty generous! Commentaries aren’t for everyone I guess, but in my mind they’re the equivalent of a feature-length documentary if they span the whole film without pauses. I have a tip for those who don’t have the time or patience for sitting through commentaries – get a Blu-ray drive so you can rip the commentary track off and listen to it as an audio file. That way you can listen to them when you’ve got the time – whilst making dinner, on your daily commute or out for a run etc. I do the same for basic talking heads special features too. It’s the only way I have time to get through so many Blu-ray extras these days.

    Reply

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