By: Dark Sky Films Studio / Director: Joe Begos
Where to Watch: Shudder
Trigger Warning: Heavy
Drug Abuse, Drug Trip/Hallucinations, Extreme Sexual Content, Implied Sexual Coercion/Abuse, Heavy Alcohol Abuse, Body Horror, Extreme Blood/Gore, Suicidal Ideation, Attempted Suicide, Gun Violence
Epilepsy/Sensory Sensitivity Warning: Flashing Opening Credit Titles, Flashing Lights/Flashing Imagery, Loud Music, Loud Noises
Last week, I had grown quite tired of my usual movie watching fodder and decided to take advantage of my free 30-day trial to Shudder. I flipped through some of their “Shudder Exclusive/Shudder Original Titles,” and was absolutely stoked to find Bliss among the offerings! A hallucinatory movie about a lady artist with a dark, creepy aesthetic that develops a mysterious bloodlust alongside a metal band soundtrack? Sold! This movie is an explosion of throbbing, thrashing music and neon lights with an intensity and energy akin to the opening night concert on your favorite metal band’s tour. It will be over before you know it, but you’ll be shouting for an encore.
Bliss takes us along for an insanely trippy ride as we follow Dezzy the Artist on her quest to make The Greatest Painting of her career as an artist. Dezzy is known for her deeply macabre, disturbing artwork; she’s built herself a name and a following, and has succeeded in securing an agent to sell her work. Like any artist who finally nails notoriety for great work, Dezzy is desperately trying to recreate the fever-pitch of her initial reception and make “The Next Big Thing.” As is apt to happen under such immense, self-imposed pressure – along with the heinous scrutiny provided by meddling Artist Agents – the dreaded “Artist Block” stands in the way of Dezzy and the divine inspiration for her next piece. Our poor girl is not only behind on deadlines, but also delinquent on studio rent, neglecting her relationship partner, and slacking in her social obligations to friends. Something’s got to give, and a painter’s gotta paint, man! Good news: she’s got a plan. Dezzy puts a call in to her local, drug-dealing BFF. He offers her a new synthetic street drug, a cocktail called “Bliss” containing hallucinogenic DMT. Dezzy grabs a sample (and, of course, some for the road), divine inspiration hits, and then it all goes sideways at breakneck speed. To rehash the plot here past the studio-provided summary would do this movie an injustice. Although nothing about the storyline, dialogue, or plot points are especially unique twists, it hardly matters; with all of the crazy psychedelic visuals you are consuming you will be too busy trying to keep your grip on reality to yell “seen it!”
Bliss is a niche visual spin on the typical, gothic vampire tropes set to a grinding hardcore soundtrack and lit by an overzealous AV tech at a local metal show (and I mean that in a really good way, haha!). I was grateful for the photosensitive/epilepsy warning Shudder added before the start of the film, though. As a person with photosensitivity to flashing lights, it gave me enough of a heads up to open the shades and turn on some ambient light. The neon flashing and pulsing imagery starts mere seconds after the warning disappears from your screen, so be cautious if strobes and loud noises stress your health or senses! The flashing cast names and title card alone set the tone and pacing for a hellish 80 minute assault on your senses. It is not remotely for the faint of heart.
I would slap just about every trigger warning in the book on this one. From start to finish, it is chock full of debauchery, drug use, sex-capades, blood, guts, and violence with little to no break in humor (unless you’re like me, and just get so desensitized by the fourth or fifth brutal killing that you also descend into madness and start laughing. What? Don’t judge me….).
The frenetic energy and dizzying camera angles send the viewer into such a tizzy you begin to wonder if someone dosed your drink before the movie started. The cinematography is a mash-up of Enter the Void, Neon Demons, Only God Forgives and let’s toss in a little bit of Quentin Tarantino violence for good measure. It’s overwhelming, anxiety inducing, nauseating, and I loved every insane minute of it. With each passing minute, we descend further and further into Dezzy’s crumbling world and decaying mental stability. Claustrophobic close-crops, hand-held camera action, pulsing visual montages, cyberpunk-noir style lighting, and an overall grunge rock aesthetic propels you forward into the dark, broody, trippy hell-scape that is the life of Dezzy the artist. Employing a soundtrack of grinding guitars, thrashing drum beats, and pulsing bass guitar was brilliant. Several scenes include clever cuts and character actions set to the beat of the score with extreme precision and masterful editing skills just like 2017’s Baby Driver.
Although, I’ve not read any pieces on the writer-director’s intentions, and thus can’t speak to his motivation, it certainly seems as though he intended this to sucker punch you in the feels as much as it assaults the rest of your senses. On the surface, this is a brutally dark, grindhouse, vampire film; but beneath the glitzy, neon, blood-spattered façade, there are a numerous, understated layers. Bliss not-so-subtly covers topics of substance abuse, addiction, mental health, and the human need for connection, to be seen and understood in our social circles. It also dwells on the ideas of art versus the artist, how we feed our passion as creatives, and how we question what compels us to create. Does forced creativity bleed us dry of inspiration? Is creativity an innate ability or does it need to be fed from a well-spring? Is there a finite source of inspiration? Are there deeper forces driving our desire to express ourselves than just what’s on the surface? Is being possessed by bloodlust and killing people to satisfy that urge the best way to create a masterpiece? Who knows!
Oddly enough, even though the writer/director is a man who overtly sexualizes his female characters through The Male Gaze, this is also a very intensely feminist movie. The patriarchy treats women as commodity, and capitalist culture thrives on iconography of The Celebrity; nothing else matters in a culture of obsession, consumerism, and rape culture. Society as a whole is so used to consuming young women as a product, that Dezzy’s autonomy is hardly even an afterthought to any of the people in her life. She is consistently judged by those around her, and her only escape is substance abuse and/or creativity. Dezzy is constantly undermined by her male counterparts, and each of them incorrectly surmise that she is a delicate flower, lacks the wherewithal of independent thought, and requires outside guidance to make the right choice. Her agent and the art gallery rep both expect her to pump out product like a machine, so that they can reap their commission rates. Dezzy has got a lot valid as hell reasons to become cutthroat, vicious, violent, and bloodthirsty; really, who can blame her with all those things stacked against her?
Bliss is chock full of ridiculous contradictions: rabid, yet thoughtful; gross, yet beautiful. This film is gritty, grimy, aggressive, and brutal, but it’s worth the watch if you’re into Arthouse Horror Aesthetic. Overall, I think Bliss has a lot to offer the moviegoer who thinks they’ve “seen it all” in the horror genre. This is the retro 70’s/80’s grunge rock, vampire, slasher flick you didn’t know you needed in your life!
Review by Ellen Avigliano
I watched this movie during my 30 day free trial streaming of Shudder.