BLISS *** USA 2019 Dir: Joe Begos. 80 mins
Although he has yet to make a fully satisfying feature, there is much to admire in writer-director Joe Begos’ 80’s-infused output, and BLISS cuts loose in ways that ALMOST HUMAN and THE MIND’S EYE never quite managed, even if it doesn’t quite hit the bullseye despite plentiful gore eye candy and a ferociously impressive lead performance.
Prolific composer Steve Moore, whose soundtrack was the best thing about THE MIND’S EYE, returns with a characteristically pulsing, intimidating score. The camerawork is as restless and jitter-inducing as the editing, spiralling into anarchy as the narrative does the same. The initial “Viewer Discretion” title card and flashing / dripping opening titles set a bad-boy punk rock vibe that the rest of the movie works hard to fulfil.
A hallucinatory descent into a personal hell, it stars Dora Madison as a struggling artist who hasn’t finished a painting in three months. She’s late for her rent, her anxiety has gone through the roof and, even though her Dad is played by Norm from CHEERS (George Wendt), he’s as drunk / high as the next man (in this case, Abraham Benrubi). She seeks solace in a drug that purports to be the closest we can get to a cocaine-DMT hybrid, and all-purpose weirdo Dante (the ace Jesse Merlin) eases her into a carnage-laden, hedonistic spiral of sex and addiction.
This unrelenting story of a young woman’s physical and mental decline nods thematically to RABID and RAW (among others) though, despite Madison’s fearless, full-frontal performance, lacks a truly empathetic protagonist and drowns in shouty, profane dialogue. It winds up suitably nihilistic but curiously uninvolving. That said, Begos unleashes a rip-roaring rampage of spurting gore, limb-ripping and old-school meltdowns in the second half, captured by the kind of enthusiastic and unflinching practical FX that would have made this a playground talking point and much-paused VHS tape in 1985.
Review by Steven West