There is absolutely no separation between art and artist in Joe Begos’ fast and furious vampire flick. Bliss posits that the bad behaviour and demented excess of its protagonist is intrinsic to her creativity. Blood and paint flow liberally in a hugely impressive thriller that is both grimy and spectacular; anchored by a primal central performance.
Dezzy (Dora Madison) is dropped by her agent after her artistic output is stunted by a prolonged creative block. The hedonistic painter plunges into a epic bender, fueled by vast quantities of a mysterious but unfeasibly potent hallucinogen and the suspicious attentions of her friend Courtney (Tru Collins). When she comes round the next day minus both clothes and memory of the preceding hours, she discovers that the sickness she’s feeling can’t be attributed entirely to over-indulgence.
Madison is pure banshee scream of kinetic rage throughout yet functions as the eye of the storm around which the whole maelstrom revolves. It has to be said that the vampirism, when it begins to bite, merely heightens her existing character rather than alters it. Dezzy’s a difficult character to warm to, but Madison keeps her watchable, and occasionally even empathetic, as surliness becomes naked aggression, hedonism gives way to orgiastic excess, and her unpredictability becomes actively dangerous. She becomes a frizzy-maned wrecking ball to all around her, and Madison’s committed, mercurial performance remains utterly compelling, when the cycle of nighttime carnage and daytime regret threatens to become repetitive.
With its theme of vampirism as allegory for drug addiction, Bliss feels like an unruly cousin of Abel Ferrara‘s The Addiction. However, where that film is intellectual, austere and rooted in Ferrara’s usual preoccupation with New York as a conduit for the convergence of sin and redemption , Bliss is brash, undisciplined and very much at home in the scorched ozone and neon decadence of LA. Begos isn’t interested in the philosophical implications of his protagonist’s plight. His film-making here is as free and instinctive as Dezzy’s art; punctuated by freakouts of grungy violence and spastic editing, and sound-tracked by the feral racket of Electric Wizard and Doomriders, and the expansive chaos of much-missed post-metallers ISIS.
Such is the the prolonged intensity of Bliss that even at a lean and mean 80 minutes, it’s an exhausting experience and its brevity is a mercy. It has something of the confrontational energy of Gaspar Noe without quite such a fondness for arch shock tactics, and like recent divisive films like Hereditary and mother!, is marked by an escalating hysteria to the point of collapse. There is an undercurrent there about Dezzy’s art being as much an elemental drive as her prodigious appetite for sex, drugs and partying, but Bliss functions perfectly as a thunderous roller coaster of a film on a surface level. Begos is returning swiftly with VWF, screening at Glasgow Film Festival in March, and the success of Bliss surely makes it essential for all connoisseurs of down-and dirty-genre thrills.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 10 Feb 2020