Joe Begos’ BLISS had its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, unleashing a blood-soaked, insane vision of the creative process.
Painter Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) is facing the worst nightmare for any artist: she is unable to finish her latest commissioned work, her rent is past due, and her agent has just dropped her. Feeling fed up, she decides to spend her newfound free time indulging in drugs, alcohol and debauchery. After one particular night of antics, she notices changes in herself and her behavior. The good news is that she has found the creative spark once again and is making significant progress on her painting, which she has declared to be her magnum opus. The bad news is that she now has an uncontrollable desire for blood.
BLISS recalls the glorious grindhouse films of the 70’s. It’s unapologetically punk rock in both aesthetic and attitude. Dezzy and her friends are crude, loud and don’t care much about the opinions of others. In terms of the visual package, BLISS presents itself stylishly – neon lights, atmospheric set design, and thoughtful cinematography ensure that it’s rarely boring to look at. Equally impressive is the sound design, seamlessly interweaving music and ethereal soundscapes, especially during the film’s few hallucinatory segments, which particularly stand out as highlights.
Narratively speaking, BLISS could satisfy fans of 2016’s The Devil’s Candy, both involving heavy metal-obsessed painters who slowly become taken over by an evil presence in their quest to complete a piece of art. That said, BLISS is more interested in presenting a more sensory, psychedelic experience. Much of the horror is psychological, as Dezzy grapples with a high that no other drug can compete with as well as her urge to quench her bloodlust by any means necessary. It can be quite clever, especially during the film’s final 20 minutes or so, where Begos takes great pleasure in manipulating the expectations of the viewer. It truly feels like anything can happen.
Like the films from which it takes inspiration, BLISS exhibits similar ups and downs. Its carefully crafted visual presentation is accompanied by a slightly unfocused story with dialogue that ranges from amusing to clichéd. Along with its awesome devil may cry attitude, we are presented with not the most likable of protagonists. While this isn’t entirely an unwelcome proposition, it’s difficult to become emotionally attached to the journey leading up to the film’s satisfyingly bonkers climax. This becomes problematic, as this is a short affair (roughly 80 minutes) that takes its time to get the ball rolling. It results in an ending that feels necessary and explosive, but not quite earned.
BLISS may not always hit its stride, but its existence will surely welcome those seeking a very specific kind of high.