Written and directed by Joe Begos the man behind Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye and the upcoming VFW, Bliss is a grimy gory and grungy update of the vampire tale heavily reminiscent of Abel Ferrara excellent The Addiction but much, much louder.
Friday Night Lights Dora Madison plays anarchic L.A artist Dezzy Donahue who although exceptionally talented seems unable to finish her latest work, a huge abstract canvas covered in reds and oranges. This creative rut has the potential of losing her an agent, a home and a career unless she focusses and finds inspiration soon.
Looking for a release from all of the pressure she hits up her friendly neighbourhood drug dealer scoring a brand new thrill named Diablo which takes her on a wild night of sex, drink and more drugs. Partying hard with her hedonistic friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s equally decadent partner Ronnie (True Detective’s Rhys Wakefield) Dezzy finally finds herself artistically stimulated and starts to create with a fierce passion.
However her enlightened spark comes at a cost and after another crazy evening with the dark duo Dezzy starts to have horrific visions and a deep pain. The pain is a thrust and the thirst is for blood. Before she knows it Dezzy has descended into a darkness she has never experienced before but can she find a way back before it’s too late?
If I am totally honest Bliss is exactly the sort of film that turns me off especially in the horror genre. Personally any tale of excessive partying detailing crazy nights of alcohol and rock and roll coupled with the subsequent “drugs are bad” moralising bores me and as an allegory for vampirism it’s extremely played out and predictable.
Also the gratuitous sex scenes and inevitable lipstick lesbianism in Bliss and other movies of its ilk seem completely incongruous. Why is it in these films we only ever see women indulging in wild gay encounters rather than men? Is it because it’s more titillating and more acceptable to the straight audience? And why is homosexuality presented as being some crazy result of being high?
Regardless I realise the above criticisms are my personal problems with Bliss and movies like it and therefore I will continue this review focusing on other more positive elements of the film as I believe there is a large audience who will love Begos take on the blood sucking monsters.
Most important is the performance of Dora Madison which is exceptional. As Dezzy she completely commits to the role and her willingness to abandon herself to the character and the trippy and terrifying journey she is going on is exemplary. Featuring in nearly every scene she is fearless and fascinating to watch pushing the story on and captivating the audience who are thrown into the chaos of her life.
From the dark punk rock clubs to the dirty drug dens and Dezzy’s cluttered and chaotic apartment there is a very real feel to the locations and settings of Bliss all of which seem to be within the shadowy underbelly of Los Angeles. The other side to this is Bliss’s more stylised moments which work equally well and comparisons have been drawn to Gaspar Noé another director drawn to the darker side of humanity.
Best of all the final act descends into excessive gore and the effects are awesome with bloodletting and limb ripping scenes that will excite and engross horror fans for sure. This move towards action and away from navel gazing dialogue detracts us from the predictability of the plot and entertainingly accelerates proceedings towards the final moments of the movie where art and reality combine in nightmarish fashion.
As I mentioned Bliss may not be for me but it will certainly set alight certain audiences and Dora Madison is a powerful talent to watch out for in the future.