New Blu is Vampire ‘Bliss’

by Nick Spacek on November 12, 2019

in Blu-ray/DVD Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

The latest film from director Joe Begos, Bliss (out this week on Blu-ray and DVD from Dark Sky Films) continues the refinement of the ideas which the filmmaker began exploring with 2013’s Almost Human and continued in 2015’s The Mind’s Eye. Much as those movies were the director’s modern updates of Fire in the Sky and Scanners, respectively, Bliss sees Begos trying his hand at the vampire mythos:

“Known for her dark and macabre artwork, painter Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) is in a professional rut. Unable to finish her newest commissioned work, Dezzy looks to reignite her creative juices by letting loose-as in, taking every drug in sight and tearing through raucous house parties and heavy metal bars. After a few nights spent with her debauchery-loving friends Courtney (Tru Collins) and Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield), though, Dezzy notices changes within herself. On the positive side, she’s finally painting again, but she’s also developing a strange desire for blood. As someone who has never been able to control her vices in the first place, Dezzy is quickly and violently consumed by this bloodlust.”

Other recent updates to the vampire genre, such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Only Lovers Left Alive, have attempted to return the story of bloodsuckers to the moody and genteel roots of the Universal Pictures archetype, operating in black and white or with a sense of class, the characters grown tired by centuries of the same thing over and over. Bliss, however, sees Begos digging into the punk rock, new-blood vampires of Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

While the scope of Begos’ picture might not expand to the grand Western vistas of Bigelow’s film, the cityscape surroundings of Los Angeles itself add a lot of production value to the film, which otherwise takes place in a series of small rooms – rock clubs, art galleries, studio apartments, and the bathrooms of these various locales – lending the indoor scenes an intense sense of closeness and pressing in upon of the viewer. Only during the times when Dezzy is driving her car (a convertible, naturally) is there any time where it doesn’t feel as if the characters and the film aren’t right there, in your face.

The environs and characters of the film have a sense of familiarity to them, which might be due to the fact that there’s a subsection of Horror Film Twitter that’s well-represented. It goes from the use of Begos regulars like Graham Skipper as drug dealer Hadrian and Josh Ethier as Bobby, along with an-all-too-brief appearance from Jesse Merlen, who appeared opposite Skipper in Beyond the Gates. Abraham Benrubi and George Wendt also have small roles, making Bliss a veritable who’s who of character actors both contemporary and classic.

Add in the fact that, according to Begos and Madison in their commentary track, all of Dezzy’s t-shirts were pulled straight from the director’s closet, allowing genre-related companies such as Death Waltz Recording Co. and Holy Mountain Printing to get a bit of screen time, as well, and the film could’ve been a series of “hey, isn’t that …?” experiences.

Happily, thanks to a tight 80-minute run time, and crack direction by Begos, every scene feels as if it’s absolutely necessary. The scenes of Dezzy creating her art slowly reveal something at the heart of her, with each blackout ending with a painting more and more complete. The crazed, possessed artist with a fondness for metal draws comparisons with The Devil’s Candy, but Madison’s Dezzy hungers for more than one good break, unlike Ethan Embry’s Jesse in the 2015 Sean Byrne film. Also, using the likes of the psychedelic metal band Electric Wizard and post-metal act Isis brings the trippy, off-kilter drug use of the film into high (pun intended) focus.

Sadly, talking too much about the other main characters reveals more of the plot, and would denigrate the first-time viewing experience. The general idea that it’s a vampire movie by way of a bad trip doesn’t give anything away, but letting the film roll out in front of you without a clue as to what exactly is going to happen is the best way to approach Bliss. I went in pretty much blind, and felt myself experiencing some jaw-dropping scenarios.

To that end, the Blu-ray includes a deleted scene which was evidently originally Bliss‘ cold open, and leaving it on the cutting room floor lets the viewer experience the sudden cravings and madness had by Dezzy with the same sense of confusion and then, dawning realization, as the character herself, rather than foreshadowing too much of what’s to come. Much of what’s appealing about Bliss is the ride on which Begos takes the viewer, strapping them into the same hellbent train as the protagonist, parceling out the inevitable reveal in a string of hallucinatory visuals.

Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with two kids and three cats. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online. In addition to his work for Scene-Stealers, Nick can be found bitching about music elsewhere on the Internet at his blog, Rock Star Journalist, and as Music Editor for The Pitch.


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