Supernatural, hyper-violent horror drenched in sickly neon hues is a subgenre that has recently received attention in not only the form of a genuinely good Lovecraft movie with Color Out Of Space, but also in one of the very best films of the last five years in Mandy. To enter this arena thinking you have something new to offer takes a lot of confidence, and it’s this confidence that drives Joe Begos’s Bliss. It’s a full-throttle dive into the seedy underbelly of the arts scene in LA, propelled by blood, drugs, and an aggressive, speed metal-driven soundtrack that has a lot of chaotic energy but not much that will stick with you long after it finishes.
Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) is a cult-favourite painter in LA who’s facing a debilitating bout of artist’s block. Her agent is dropping her and the galleries want their advances back so Dezzy seeks a solution in psychedelics, taking a newly formulated drug that sparks frenzied creativity. Unfortunately, it also sparks a vampiric bloodlust, and so Dezzy sets about trying to fill her cravings while completing a painting that she’s sure will be her masterpiece.
Bliss is filled with some pretty obvious subtext about addiction and the all-consuming nature of the entertainment and art industries, but, mostly, it feels like it’s about how horrible LA and its population is. Begos’s vision of the city is acrid, everyone Dezzy encountering either utterly insufferable or viciously hostile. It creates an effectively oppressive atmosphere, all the streets and lights and people acting as abrasive forces for the entirety of Bliss’s brief 80-minute runtime. Yet, all the atmosphere fails to add up to much. Madison gives a full-throttle performance, but her cycle of ‘bloody rampage, confused hangover, painting’ gets repetitive and stale too quickly.
Add to that the near-pornographic excess of nudity and gore, and Bliss becomes an offering that is only for the hardcore midnight horror crowd. Begos’s splatter effects are impressively gruesome, especially once people start melting into the floors, but you never care about the people upon whom the violence is inflicted, which dampens the potential for any real scares. As far as grotty, trippy gore-fests go, you could do worse than Bliss, but with films like Mandy out there, you could also do a hell of a lot better.