Director: Joe Begos
Starring: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt
Run Time: 80mins
"Bliss" is the third feature from cult director Joe Begos who has built up a cult following on the back of his previous two efforts "The Mind Eyes" and "Almost Human." A following that is surely only set to enlarge on the back of this eye-scorching, mind-bending hallucinatory vampire tale.
A tale that is set in a current-day scuzzball vision of LA of the kind rarely seen on screen now but eminently familiar to fans of 70s/80s exploitation cinema. And tells the story of Dezzy (Madison), an artist struggling to finish her masterpiece, which ends up becoming a vampire thanks to one of her hipster pals.
Not that the movie dives straight to that moment. No, despite the film's brief run time, it is surprisingly leisurely paced. A factor that works to films advantage as we get to acquaint ourselves with Dezzy pre being turned and to soak in the sleazy atmosphere Begos has constructed as Dezzy drives and wanders the LA streets generally in a drug and booze-fuelled haze. And make no mistake about this is totally Madison's film. She puts in an utterly compelling performance and makes what could easily be an utterly obnoxious character, one that an audience still kind roots for, even when she starts bumping people off.
In some ways, it is just as well as that Madison's performance pulls focus from the other characters as it smooths over the fact that many of them are paper-thin. That said, both Jeremy Gardner and Graham Skipper put in solid performances as Dezzy's boyfriend Clive and drug-dealing mate Hadrian, respectively. Both are also given a bit of personality too, unlike the couple who turn her Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield) and Courtney (Tru Collins), who seem like walking hipster vamp stereotypes.
The scene where Dezzy gets turned by them is also a bit off — coming off like a scene straight out of an early 90s erotic thriller complete with a cheesy score.
None of which should put you off as despite its flaws, this is one of the most entertaining, bloodiest, and stylish vampire efforts in years as the movies bold, neon-drenched, psychotropic visuals are what make an impression. Making the viewer viscerally feel like they are being sucked into the same trippy hellscape Dezzy is descending. Whether deliberately or not, the visuals immediately bring to mind the like of "Mandy," "Enter the Void," and "Only God Forgives."
Begos's most notable influence here though is Abel Ferrara. As the film has a similar grimy, lo-fi feel as "The Addiction" as well as drawing the same line between vampirism and drug addiction. However, instead of getting that film's heavy existentialism here, we get it fused with the nihilistic punk rock energy of "Driller Killer."
You could argue there is a lack of depth here, and this is a case of "style over substance," and there is possibly some merit too that, but still, it is hard not to be won over when the style on display is quite this irresistible.
Overall: A trippy, gory, intense visual assault of a movie with a star turn from Madison that should delight gorehounds and fans of exploitation cinema everywhere. Between this and the highly touted upcoming "VFW," 2020 will surely be Begos's big breakthrough year.