September 23, 2019 Bliss (Movie Review)
When a film begins with seizure induced kinetic opening titles with the song “Revolt” by The Nymphs, best known for being used in 1992’s underrated sequel Pet Sematary Two… then rest assured you have a fanboy picture on your hands. With his previous films, 2013’s Almost Human and 2015’s The Mind’s Eye, Filmmaker Joe Begos won the hearts of Horror lovers through his stylistic nostalgia and inhibition-free penchant for brutality. His newest film Bliss, set for release in theaters and on all digital platforms courtesy of Dark Sky Films on Friday September 27th, ups the ante and harkens back to the grimy days of New York City grind house cinema. How far back? How about when the likes of Abel Ferrara’s 1979 The Driller Killer film and Bill Lustig’s 1980 Maniac were the norm.
Known for her dark and macabre artwork, painter Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison: Dexter series, Star-Crossed series) is in a professional rut. Unable to finish her newest commissioned work, Dezzy looks to reignite her creative juices and let loose by taking every drug in sight and tearing through raucous house parties and Heavy Metal bars.
After a few nights spent with her debauchery-loving friends Courtney (Tru Collins: Masters of Sex series, Insecure series) and Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield: The Purge 2013, True Detective series), Dezzy notices changes within herself. On the positive side, she’s finally painting again, but she’s also developing a strange desire for blood. As someone who has never been able to control her vices in the first place, Dezzy is quickly and violently consumed by this bloodlust.
Now to say Bliss is a mixed bag would be an understatement. On the one hand there is quite a bit at play here to admire for hardcore genre enthusiasts. There is harsh neon lighting of a sun-drenched, blood soaked Los Angeles as well as the no holds barred NC-17 approach to the violence and sex, but also the throwback Grunge soundtrack. Not to mention a commanding go for the throat lead performance by Dora Madison dropping more F bombs than the entire series of The Sopranos combined. Single-handedly annihilating her mainstream TV roles in Chicago Fire and Friday Night Lights for what is essentially a female version of Reno Miller from the aforementioned The Driller Killer. It’s all there and then some making this an ideal film for a drunk rowdy midnight crowd of nostalgia kids trapped in the past but really not much else beyond that.
Unfortunately there are also elements in Bliss that are incredibly frustrating, obnoxious, thematically muddled, unevenly paced and horribly acted. Watching a professional like Dora Madison tear up the screen by herself is intriguing to watch though when she’s acting opposite amateurs like Graham Skipper and Jeremy Gardner it’s quite painful to witness. You almost feel embarrassed for Madison giving so much and getting nothing in return by actors who are better left on the cutting room floor in high school student films.
In fact, the film takes itself so seriously as if it’s competing for an exploitation Academy Award that the intensity comes off more laughable than striking. The half baked dumpster plot is so lazily written that it’s no surprise the filmmaker gives up on it halfway through in favor of heads and fingers getting ripped off. Not to mention the one dimensional characters are as appealing and likable as a school bus fire.
Now, granted the films that Bliss is harking back to were never great pieces of cinema in the first place, it is understandable the blatant flaws because that is what made the original films charming in a sleazy way. That said, when you are trying to literally duplicate aesthetics from films made either before you were born or while you were growing up… that is a very dangerous tightrope to walk. You need to find a way to modernize the spirit of these kind of films and not just replicate them on a surface level because you will be missing the mark completely on what made them all work in the first place. Also, you do not have the luxury of being released at a time when these films were exploding all over Times Square and the Drive-ins.
It is obvious Bliss is personal to Begos as he himself is a struggling independent artist so it is nice to see he was able to evoke his emotions through something as psychedelically nauseating as this. However, it is hard to truly be invested in the emotional arc of our lead character when it becomes nothing but repeated F bombs by literally everyone from Dezzy’s landlord to some random fan she disses at a bar. Surely this film will be perfectly fine for a small demographic, but you have to believe that their love for it will be for all the wrong reasons. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Bliss 2 out of 5 stars.