For his third feature, writer/director Joe Begos heads into the blood-soaked realm of vampires with Bliss, his nightmarishly gritty exploration of the darker side of the creative process and what we’re willing to give up in order to “feed the beast”—so to speak.
Bliss is centered around Dezzy (Dora Madison), an up-and-coming artist living in Los Angeles that is having a rough go of it: she can’t pay her rent, she is suffering from a crippling case of painter’s block, and her agent has decided to dump her, leaving her feeling hopeless and desperately numb. Looking to forget her troubles, Dezzy sets out on a drug and alcohol-fueled bender with the help of her friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s eccentric boyfriend, Dante (Jesse Merlin), and the trio’s night of debauchery culminates in a very brutally intimate fashion.
But when she wakes up the next day, Dezzy is pleased to find that her creative juices are flowing, but not without a price, and she soon realizes that she needs more to keep her going—and it’s not just drugs or booze that we’re talking about here. What Dezzy is really craving is blood, and she’ll stop at nothing to get her “fix,” regardless of who happens to be her next victim.
A gruesomely hypnotic take on vampire lore, Bliss also perfectly encapsulates the Los Angeles experience for struggling creatives who still have to hustle themselves and their art, but also find themselves often frustrated when they are trying to make ends meet. In many ways, Bliss feels like Begos’ most personal film to date, as Dezzy’s frustrations are similar to what many filmmakers go through in just trying to get their own artistic endeavors out and into the world, and I think that’s what drew me in here the most. That being said, the actual narrative to Bliss is a bit on the thin side, as it feels like it’s more invested in being something of an experience than it is in being a deeply constructed narrative, which is absolutely okay with me because that really wasn’t what I was expecting from the film at all.
Begos puts viewers squarely in the center of Dezzy’s descent into an unquenchable madness throughout Bliss, and Madison gives a truly haunting performance of a woman whose desperation to hit that creative high is only rivaled by her need of various substances to help dull the pain of the rest of her existence. And even as someone who has really only ever embarked on alcohol-fueled benders in her lifetime (I primarily reside in Squaresville, folks), there’s something very relatable about Dezzy’s struggles, both as a human being and as a newly formed vampire who is on the hunt for blood, that makes her journey here a really powerful one. Cinematographer Mike Testin also utilizes his camera in a variety of ways to mimic the frenetic chaos that’s consuming Dezzy’s life as she continues to spiral out of control throughout Bliss, which was at often times very dizzying, but wholly effective, and the way the camera taps into the neon-soaked nightmare that consumes her life was pure genius.
Also, if you’re familiar with Begos’ films at all, it shouldn’t surprise you that practical effects are once again front and center in Bliss, and holy hell, there are some truly grisly gags in this film beyond just copious amounts of blood splattered about. There’s very little that makes me squeamish anymore when it comes to horror movies, but there was one moment in particular involving an Achilles’ heel gag, and it made me audibly gasp because it was like seeing my worst fear come to life (I have a thing about ankle trauma, thanks to 30 years of Pet Sematary).
While I still feel like Almost Human is my favorite Begos joint to date, there’s still a lot that I enjoyed about Bliss and I think it’s a perfect showcase for Begos as a filmmaker who continues to prove that he always has new ways to approach familiar elements in horror. An ambitious and grim hallucinatory trip into the hellscape that is the creative process, Bliss makes for a memorable addition to the ever-growing pantheon of blood-sucking cinematic fare, and it marks another great turn in Begos’ career.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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