24th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Bliss’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Chris McKenna, Rachel Avery, George Wendt, Abraham Benrubi, Mark Beltzman | Written and Directed by Joe Begos

bliss-poster

If ever there was a filmmaker I felt made films especially for me it’s Joe Begos. Almost Human, The Minds Eye and now Bliss. Three films that take on different cinematic horror tropes: alien invasion, telekinesis and vampirism repectively but also three films that harken back to the 80s, in both style and substance. In this reviewers opinion the 80s is an era where ideas where allowed to run rampant, mainly in part due to the explosion if the direct-to-VHS market and a burgeoning, if not rabid, fan base for horror movies on tape who would watch literally ANYTHING they could get their eager hands on.

Begos’ latest, Bliss, tells the story of a brilliant painter facing the worst creative block of her life turns to anything she can to complete her masterpiece and recklessly indulges in a series of drug binges. As the narcotics fly out of control and spiral into a hallucinatory hell scape of highs, lows, sex, and murder in the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles, so does her new found, and inexplicable, yet unquenchable craving for blood.

I’m going to say this now. Joe Begos is a modern-day auteur. His films, despite a variety of subject matter and storytelling methods, all have a distinct “Begos” vibe and his clear love for the 80s, and the films that came from that decade, shines throughout all his work – but not in the type of pastiche way you might expect. Many of Begos’ films feel like they are long-lost products of that era, unearthed years later for modern-day film fans to enjoy.

This time round Begos’ infliuences are a little more esoteric. There are shades of the seedy 80s films set on 42nd Street; hints at William Friedkin’s Cruising AND To Live and Die in L.A.; there’s the “cool-factor” of 80s vampire movie Near Dark; and even a nod to the more extreme end of filmmaking and the films of directors like Abel Ferrara (Driller Killer) and Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock). But this is still very much a Joe Begos film. Why? Because Begos is one of the few filmmakers today who is actually making films that are the epitomy of the rock-and-roll nightmare. Sod Jon-Mikl Thor!

What also marks out Begos’ work is the sheer dedication he gets out of his cast. In Bliss he’s found a new horror icon in actress Dora Madison. If ever there was an actress that gave her everything to a role its Madison. And this performance is a far cry from her previous, somewhat more squeaky-clean, roles. Madison’s performance, as painter Dezzy, is raw, real, terrifying and captivating all at the same time – it’s the kind of character who you’d be absolutely terrified of meeting in real life but whose life you still care for. It’s a wonderful dichotomy that Begos has created and it would seem Dora Madison got it perfectly and truly commits to the character of Dezzy and her descent into a drug-fueled, blood-sucking ride to hell.

And there’s not just a commitment from Madison either. Joe Begos REALLY commited to giving Bliss an old-school vibe by shooting the entire film on 16mm. On paper it sounds crazy, especially given the constraints of film and the complications that come with it, but on the screen it is a sight to behold. The visuals become part of the story, the graininess giving the film an even grittier, gutteral, look than the script calls for; the real look of film gives the film extra depth and some surprising extra kudos; and the whole movie just looks more epic and more grandiose.

Sex, drugs and rock & roll captured perfectly on the screen, Bliss cements Joe Begos as one of the best independent genre directors working today (and my one of my favourites, as if you couldn’t tell already). Let’s just hope he can keep working, as you can’t help but think the plot of this film, an artist struggling to complete their work, reflects Begos’ life somewhat!

***** 5/5

Bliss acreened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Friday August 23rd 2019.

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