Bliss reunites the dream team of writer-director Joe Begos and his frequent star and collaborator Graham Skipper. Unlike earlier projects, like The Mind’s Eye and Almost Human, however, this time around the focus is furiously female. Taking viewers on a blood-soaked, drug-fueled voyage into violence and madness, while tackling the very nature of creativity itself, Begos gives us one of the most fascinating protagonists, and films, of the year. Skipper, meanwhile, has a blast playing second fiddle (with some seriously dope muttonchops).
Our anti-heroine is Dezzy (Dora Madison, so committed you worry she might tear through the screen with her teeth at any moment), a struggling artist who’s so poor she still uses a flip-phone. Her well-meaning but useless boyfriend, Clive (horror hero Jeremy Gardner, who’s finally taken off his thumb ring, signalling the true end of an era) encourages her but Dezzy is feeling the burn trying to finish her latest piece. On top of everything, her manager is sick of dealing with her.
Rather than face life, Dezzy rolls round to her dealer’s (Skipper, having a blast) place and he introduces her to a new drug called bliss that’s apparently going to blow her mind. That it duly does, leading Dezzy to spiral with a couple super-cool no-goods (played by Dru Collins and Rhys Wakefield at his most vampiric) into an orgy of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. The following morning, Dezzy is hanging, but something else has changed in her too: she’s thirsting for blood, or more bliss, or both.
Bliss is a trip, in all senses of the word. Sexy, but not exploitative, fast-paced but never headache-inducing, it replicates the feeling of being on a great trip that turns horrifying better than any movie in recent memory. Shot on 16mm in just 24 days, it’s gorgeously grainy and textured, loaded with stunning visuals — a bloody shower, blood stained into Dezzy’s hair, lots of other blood-related stuff — including the painting itself, which I’d gladly hang in my living room and stare at forever.
Bliss boasts elements of Near Dark, The Lost Boys, and even Queen of the Damned. It evokes the gut-wrenching feeling of the still vastly underrated Devil’s Candy, in its utilization of artwork and music (that film employed a heavy metal soundtrack, this boasts a fitting mixture of metal and punk), but this is a unique, emotionally charged viewing experience unlike any other. Like the best punk rock songs, Bliss is rough, messy, loud, and powerful. It makes you want to stand up and rock out along with it.
Much of its power, of course, comes from Madison’s startlingly committed performance in the leading role. She’s unbelievably gorgeous, similar to Rachel True in The Craft but completely unleashed, and dressed to kill throughout (give me a pair of boots, some ripped jeans, and a fishnet bralet and I will be Dezzy for Halloween, y’all). Everything about her is inescapably cool, from her car, to her loft, to her Death Waltz tee. Likewise, Courtney and Ronnie, who initially lead Dezzy astray, are scary-cool. Hanging out with them is an enticing prospect, even though it clearly brings nothing good.
Like its super-rad poster (put it on a T-shirt, like, now), Bliss is dripping with cool, evocative details, including an always-welcome Jesse Merlin cameo. Gardner’s transformation to sexy but annoying vamp is also a standout feature, and traipsing around L.A.’s dodgiest dive bars is a treat when accompanied by the pulsating, ever-present score and take-no-prisoners firecracker Dezzy. This is the kind of movie you want to climb into and be a part of. It feels dangerous because it’s so raw, because it comes from somewhere inescapably real.
Most importantly, though, it’s wonderful to see a properly flawed female lead who doesn’t require a redemption arc or a man to save her. Dezzy isn’t always easy to empathize with, but that’s entirely the point. Begos clearly identifies with her struggle, as will any creatives who have found themselves turning to drugs and alcohol to fuel their art (never a good choice, to be clear). An utterly involving, frightening, and totally thrilling deep-dive into the dark underbelly of Los Angeles via a fierce female lead, Bliss is one of the most fascinating and essential horror movies of the year.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Joe Begos
Writer(s): Joe Begos
Stars: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner
Release date: Channel 83 Films
Studio/Production Company: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 80 minutes