As a general rule, artists are not stable people, but the pressure to create can drive them completely over the edge. Abel Ferrara most notoriously explored this insanity in 1979’s The Driller Killer, blending New York’s gritty punk scene with slasher dynamics. Though while many other films have explored the inner turmoil of artists at work, there aren’t many that take it quite that far. Joe Begos’ surreal visual masterpiece Bliss takes it even further.
“What he gives her sends her so high, she doesn’t have time to come down…”
Young Downtown LA artist Dezzy (Dora Madison) hasn’t finished a painting in three months and struggles to make ends meet while her landlord, agent, and exhibitor hound her about money. Cracking under stress, she reaches out to Hadrian (Graham Skipper), her old drug connection in a desperate attempt to get some inspiration. What he gives her sends her so high, she doesn’t have time to come down when she runs into friends Courtney (Tru Collins) and Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield) and they end up in a drug-fueled orgy. But something happens that night. She thinks it’s the drug but soon notices an overbearing thirst for blood. She soon spirals out of control, as her boyfriend Clive (Jeremy Gardner) helplessly watches. At least the painting is finally coming along.
Begos has unquestionably delivered one of the best horror films of the past 20 years. His fluid camera movement mesmerizes us so we can’t take our eyes off the screen, immersing us in this dark psychedelic fantasy fueled by blood and violence. His gritty photography nods to Ferrara, but with a seedy LA vibe. The gore is as much fun as The Evil Dead but the violence recalls Russ Meyer’s stark brutality. Most interestingly, he warps archetypal themes with the ingenuity of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco.
“Madson’s intoxicating presence drags us willfully into her bizarre mystery…”
Even better, the acting equals the directing. Madson’s intoxicating presence drags us willfully into her bizarre mystery, her entire body a canvass for Dezzy’s uncontrollable urges. Gardner and Skipper in their respective roles straddle that perfect line between asshole and concerned friend, giving their characters a depth that is usually overlooked. George Wendt of Cheers fame has a small role as Hadrian’s dad and is obviously right in his element
After decades of slick CGI-driven horror drivel, a film like Bliss could be that kick in the ass the genre desperately needs. This level was weird fun was thought to be extinct until Joe Begos came around and proved us all wrong. It’s a game-changer for sure, and the fallout should be phenomenal.
Bliss (2019) Directed by Joe Begos. Written by Joe Begos. Starring Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt. Bliss screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
10 out of 10 stars