Bliss, directed by Joe Begos, came out last year and made many top horror lists. Sadly, I missed this train on the first go-around, but I rectified that when it came to Shudder. Describing Bliss just doesn’t do it justice, but I’m going to try.
Bliss centers its story around a brilliant painter named Dezzy (Dora Madison) who is in the midst of an incurable creative block that she can’t shake. But this creative block is the worst she’s ever had in her life and in turn she sets on a path to doing whatever she can to complete her masterpiece. Drugs, orgies, and rock’ roll, she begins spiraling into a hallucinatory hellscape that peels back layers of Los Angeles to reveal a magical, sleazy, and bloody city beneath it. As she begins down this path, Dezzy craves more and more until the blood lust consumes her. This is a vampire story and one we haven’t seen before.
While the film is bathed in reds, pinks, and purples that make it magical, it’s also dirty. It’s raw and gritty and during some moments it feels too real to keep watching. The line between the way that Begos shoots the film, which feels like I’m looking directly into Dezzy’s life, and the way he builds a hallucinatory fever dream is extremely thin. Propelled by drugs, Dezzy’s life turns into a fantasy of distortion. Through the pounding bass, the camera moves around and round as our lead spirals; so do we. As the blood takes hold, Dezzy loses it. As Dezzy continually loses herself, her masterpiece starts to take shape more and more which does nothing but drive her even deeper into her vampiric hole.
Every color choice is a beautiful one. When we first realize what’s happening to Dezzy and we see the first kill, the bright red blood highlights the moment in a black and white background. And from that point, Bliss pounds its way forward, covered in blood and magic with enough sex that brings to life a punk vampire story that is exactly what the genre needed.
Bliss embraces a pulp and 70s style in a contemporary setting. The sex scenes, the blood, the music, it all feels like an art film straight from that time. And while I don’t care much about Dezzy, I’m pulled into the larger story, the whole story, and the film’s breathtaking visuals. There were moments when I thought it may come close to replicating parts of The Devil’s Candy, large canvas, a painter descending into madness, but this is so much more.
Madison’s performance as Dezzy starts off as frustratingly awkward and her lines don’t land with emotion. But after about 15-minutes, it takes off like a rocket. When Dezzy begins to lose her hold on everything is when Madison’s manic and terrifying performance morphs into a gorgeous portrait of a desperate woman. Her one goal was to paint and then it turns into something else entirely as she attacks even those close to her.
When Dezzy lets loose, the bodies drop and the action picks up with gore-filled moments that get your adrenaline pumping. I won’t say much more about the film because it’s one you have to let sink in visually. But to put it simply, Bliss is a lot to watch. With disorienting camera work set to synth and punk, it would have been easy for the film to lose itself in aesthetics, but it doesn’t. There is no film like it now and it’s time for all vampire-lovers and horror fans to embrace Bliss.
Bliss is streaming on Shudder.
…Bliss is a lot to watch. With disorienting camera work set to synth and punk, it would have been easy for the film to lose itself in aesthetics, but it doesn’t. There is no film like it now and it’s time for all vampire-lovers and horror fans to embrace Bliss.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.