Saturday, September 28, 2019

Joe Begos’s Bliss

Undie young and party forever—that is the hedonistic school of vampirism we know from Anne Rice, Bret Easton Ellis, and Tony Scott’s The Hunger, among others. Of course, you’d better look good, because people will be judging you for centuries. Dezzy Donahue is already indulging in sex and substances like she is undead, but she will soon undergo the full vampire experience in director-screenwriter Joe Begos’s Bliss, which is now available on VOD and screens tonight in Brooklyn.

Donahue is a borderline collectible artist, but she is blocked on an important commission and can’t pay her rent. Obviously, the solution is a massive drug bender. However, this time Bliss, her designer drug of choice, just doesn’t get her inspiration flowing like it used to. Fortunately, her pseudo-friends Courtenay and Ronnie are there to lead her further astray.

When she wakes up from an evening of excessive indulgence, she really can’t remember what happened, including the burst of work she did on her canvas. She feels sick and hungry, but is strangely unable to keep down conventional people food. Of course, we know what is going on, even before Courtenay explains it all to her.

In a way, Bliss is a bit like Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw, but it is exponentially bloodier and grungier. It definitely suggests there is a vampiric, exploitative dimension to artistic creation, but does not delve too deeply into any of the philosophical or psychological issues this might raise. Instead, Begos immerses us in the lurid, neon CBGB-bathroom-like world Donahue and her cohorts inhabit. Seriously, you might want a tetanus shot booster before watching this one.

Dora Madison definitely goes all in and then some as Donahue, the hot mess, Ab-Fab vampy vampire. Her commitment is impressive, but she still leaves us cold. Yet, most of the rest of the characters are essentially flimsy stock figures. That even includes George Wendt (from Cheers) appearing briefly as crusty old “Pops.”

Frankly, Bliss is far more concerned with look, texture, and vibe than character development and plot points. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the atmosphere here is rather unpleasant. Perhaps Begos’s gritty aesthetic just works better in hardscrabble Rhode Island, where his first two features were set.

Regardless, we were relieved when this one was finished. His previous film, The Mind’s Eye was terrific, but the one before that, Almost Human, was just okay, so maybe he is due for another really good release (like Star Trek movies), especially since his next film is already on the festival circuit. Not recommended for vampire fans (only patrons of extreme, hallucinatory horror should consider partaking), Bliss is now available on VOD platforms and screens tonight (9/28) at the Williamsburg Nitehawk.