Joe Begos is one of the filmmakers who proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. His couple of films (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye) where like love letters to the genre films he grew up with. Inspired by the likes of David Cronenberg‘s Scanners, First Blood, Death Wish, even Brian DePalma films.Critically the response for those films was mixed, loved by genre fans worldwide. Begos was doing the ‘retro thing’ well before Stranger Things made it ‘hip’.
Fast forward to 2019 we have Bliss, is this Begos’ Magnum Opus? It’s anarchy on celluloid screen, as he unearth’s his arthouse sensibilities on grindhouse exploitation. An hallucinatory downward spiral into drugs, sex and hell, for an artist who’ll do anything to climb out of her nightmarish creative block.Would you ‘follow your Bliss‘ if it means vampirism?
Dora Madison plays our artist in peril, struggling through what seems an endless creative rut. Dezzy Donahue loves to party hard in the city of angels, but those crazy nights can’t stop that streak of bad luck. With unpaid rent, bills mounting up , Dezzy is sinking in that void of professional stagnation .
To combat her tough luck, Dezzy indulges in heavy drug use as she rages the night away. This concerns her on/off boyfriend whose concerned about her mindset and health. Things aren’t helped much largely thanks to her debauchery-minded friend Courtney and her enigmatic hubby Ronny who just feed Dezzy’s darkest urges.
When the party is over, Dezzy craves more and she finds a house party that feed those urges. Thanks to untested new drug from her regular dealer leaves her thirsting for blood and suffering from terrifying visions. Not one for moderation nor self control, she’s unable to resist her new found impulses that lead her in a dangerous direction. Has her stagnation ended? It’s bad news for everyone around her especially those filled with the red liquid she now desperately craves.
Begos inspirations are still quintessentially retro with Gaspar Noe and Abel Ferrara big players in this films direction. A richly stylistic film electrified Noe’s neon dreamscape and Ferrara’s thematic canvas (his 1995 film The Addiction comes to mind). Wrapped around the angst of Tony Scott‘s The Hunger, sleaze of a seedy strip joint or back street bar. Whilst the house band plays punk rock or metal, ferocious, raw, unrelenting.
The vampirism of the film, if anything is allegorical, symbolic for drug addiction. Los Angeles is presented as a gateway to Dezzy’s emancipation and transgressions. She can’t get enough of the drug as she gets closer to her Elysium and her very few friends suffer. At times this film reminds us of Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy, has Dezzy sold her soul to the devil?
Dora Madison‘s central performance is the film’s driving force. Begos throws everything at her apart from the kitchen sink and she deals with it with ease and intensity. Dezzy is not a likable person, very unhinged, cocky, reckless, short fused , arrogant violent. Sadistically we have no sympathy for her and we thrive for her demise.
Bliss won’t be for everyone. It’s Joe Begos’ most personal film to date, an arthouse grind. Gorgeously ambitiously crafted film that wants you to ‘follow it’s Bliss‘.
Horror | USA, 2019 | 18 | Blu-Ray, Digital HD | Eureka Entertainment | Dir.Joe Begos | Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt