Something of a hit at infamous horror film con FrightFest last year, writer/director Joe Begos (The Mind’s Eye, Almost Human) created a bit of a stir with his latest feature, 2019’s Bliss. Sitting somewhere between the work of Abel Ferreira (Driller Killer) and Gaspar Noé (Climax) with the stylish colours of 2018’s Mandy, Bliss takes you on the sleazy, drug fuelled journey of an artist looking for inspiration and finding it in a dangerous drug that sends her on a whirlwind but ultimately downward spiral of addiction that turns into something sinister and downright gory as the film goes on.
The most eye-catching thing about Bliss isn’t just its fast-paced flashing images, which aim to put you in the eye of the storm – the particular storm in question here being artist Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) and her reliance on a particular drug, nicknamed ‘bliss’, to help her make her latest masterpiece – but also the shocking and gory images that accompany her descent into madness and addiction. Joe Begos has gone all out on the gore scenes here. They might take a while to arrive for the gorehounds out there, but when they do, fans of brutal gore should be happy with what they get.
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And the reason for all the gore? Begos has added a bloodcurdling “is she or isn’t she?” twist into the plot regarding Dezzy while she is on this hardcore drug. Are Dezzy’s moments of madness real or in her drug addled mind? Begos appears to let you make up your own mind here. Nobody is off limits when it comes to Dezzy’s descent, including her sort of boyfriend, Clive (Jeremy Gardner), who gives her the drug early on in the film anyway, despite saying he wouldn’t touch it himself.
The thing that lets Bliss down somewhat are its clunky opening scenes that feel like the film is going to be some bargain bin, poorly acted B-movie. It certainly takes a while to draw you in, and the characters aren’t particularly likeable – even Dezzy’s love interest, Clive, who appears to genuinely care for Dezzy at times, but is also the one who – after lecturing her about her use of drugs – sends her on a fateful night out that ends in bloodshed. So there’s a bit of a conflict in how we feel about the characters. Dezzy herself is erratic and impulsive. But then maybe that’s the point. We are not meant to develop some sort of relationship with these characters, it’s a snapshot of a crazy period in time that we bear witness to. Don’t think too much about it and the characters and just sit back and take in the colours, debauchery and shocking images that present themselves to you, mostly in the latter part of the movie.
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When Bliss finishes it certainly does its job of leaving you in awe to a certain extent. Dora Madison certainly throws herself into the role and Joe Begos clearly went for it in terms of translating Dezzy’s madness onto the screen, and doing so in an eye-catching, hallucinogenic fashion. Whether or not you connect with Bliss in any way is down to your opinion of these sorts of films. It’s loud, it’s brash and in-your-face and it doesn’t always offer clear answers. But it does offer something unique, and despite its shoddy first act, that is something that should be celebrated.
Extras for the Limited Edition release of Bliss include audio commentaries, a deleted scene and the trailer. Also included is a nicely presented booklet which features articles on subjects raised in the movie, as well as stills from Bliss and an interview with Joe Begos.