Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Joe Begos
Writer: Joe Begos
Producer: Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, Dora Madison, Graham Skipper, Caroline Metz, Lyle Kanouse, Audrey Wasilewski
Stars: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Jeremy Gardner, George Wendt, Rhys Wakefield, Graham Skipper, Chris McKenna, Rachel Avery, Mark Beltzman, Abraham Benrubi, Jesse Merlin
A struggling artist descends into a haze of hallucinatory paranoia when a mysterious drug gives her an insatiable craving for blood.
Dezzy Donahue epitomizes a struggling starving artist. Dezzy’s unkempt landlord, who of course looks like Vic Tayback’s stepbrother wearing suspenders over a white wife-beater, harangues deadbeat Dezzy about unpaid rent. David, an agent best characterized by his Crest White Strips smile, interrupts a “heh-heh-heh!” phone call concerning a Maui vacation to drop Dezzy as a client. Dezzy hasn’t delivered to a prominent gallery owner, naturally named Nikki St. Jean, although she did cash the advance and has nothing to show for it.
Dezzy is as insufferable as she is suffering. There’s literally nothing to like about her as she becomes our begrudging guide through self-centered pity anthropomorphized as an experimental horror film.
Because it’s such a hassle being a magazine cover artist recognized by one guy at a random nightclub, Dezzy greets a harmless admirer with an unearned, “f*ck off!” She also brawls with a “hipster” who has the gall to complain about Dezzy preoccupying a public toilet for a 15-minute drug session. They shouldn’t feel too bad. Dezzy mocks everyone with four-letter phrases and rudeness, including her freeloading boyfriend Clive and shaggy drug dealer Hadrian.
Hadrian turns on Dezzy to a hardcore hallucinogenic nicknamed “bliss.” From her first hit, she’s hooked. Dezzy’s nostrils suck up the substance so frequently throughout the film, the snort SFX should receive top billing for the soundtrack.
While high on bliss, Dezzy staggers into a sleazy underbelly of seedy sex with her friend Courtney and Courtney’s boytoy Ronnie, bloody barfing in bar bathrooms, and ear-aching raves decorated by Dario Argento’s lighting team. Irredeemably unsavory people exclusively populate this puke punk world, which consists mainly of gutters, drug dens, warehouse lofts, and dimly lit dives.
Bliss brings the added bonus of making Dezzy’s creative block melt away. Although she doesn’t remember what happens during these psychedelic hazes, Dezzy wakes from each bizarre bender to find remarkable progress made on a new painting.
She also finds herself covered in crimson. Stranger still, the further Dezzy descends into fugue states of paranoid madness, the more she comes back with an insatiable appetite for blood. Through bliss, Dezzy appears to transform into something she cannot comprehend. Whatever that something is, it threatens to make victims out of everyone in Dezzy’s orbit, with Dezzy’s teeth and bare hands responsible for committing the carnage.
Being born in the seventies makes me about two decades too old to relate to the meandering miasma of a movie like “Bliss.” If you want to watch drugged-up twentysomethings engage in orgies, insult each other, and unironically complain about how hard they have it while colored lights strobe and metal music blares beneath effusive ennui, “Bliss” may be a movie for you.
“Bliss” is the script everyone I’ve ever met in underground indie Hollywood has written early in his/her fledgling career. It’s an exorcism of personal demons fueled by feelings of frustration, fury, disappointment, and disdain. It’s a stream of consciousness therapy session funneled into a flimsy narrative framed with seething contempt for rejection, phoniness, complacency, and societal institutions. It’s a confused middle finger in film form, uncertain whom it means to aim at, but certain it wants to scream regardless.
Most of those scripts ended up buried beneath large piles. Having outgrown that angst, their writers now reflect on such works as red-cheeked indiscretions of an angry youth.
Still finding his voice as an up-and-coming genre auteur, “Bliss” went into production before filmmaker Joe Begos could hit similar humility with matured hindsight. As a consequential result of his raw desire to rip into rage and see what sinew sticks to a wall, “Bliss” becomes Begos’ mad stab at grindhouse grit, complete with sporadic slow motion, celluloid burns, and film scratches whose predominant rhyme and reason is “why not?”
If this style of boozy musing, splattery slaughter, and interpretive dreaminess speaks to you, I find that fantastic. Personally, I’m past the point where “Bliss” has anything meaningful to say to me, if it even knows what it’s saying at all. Now that Joe Begos has this transitional indulgence out of his system, perhaps he can return to making more tangible entertainment out of his 1980s horror homages.
Review Score: 40