Review: Joe Begos Revitalizes The Vampire Genre With An Adrenaline Shot to the Heart in BLISS
It happens all of the time in film, especially in horror. Established genres become stale after the same story being told with little to no variation and it takes a truly unique voice to break into the cinema landscape to be able to return any of these tired genres to their once highly esteemed glory. Well, I'm here to tell you that Joe Begos is bringing the vampire back, and it’s not in a quiet and subdued fashion, he’s gunning for the throat.
Dezzy is a talented and mostly apathetic artist living a largely nihilistic lifestyle. Sex, drugs and some heavy metal music, Dezzy spends days working on her art and nights getting blitzed into a state of oblivion. She has a sort of boyfriend who she refuses to get serious with, is consistently late on her rent, just lost her agent and can’t seem to bounce her cocaine addiction. When one night of partying takes a devilishly wild turn, Dezzy tailspins into a psychotropic blood infused, drug fueled spiral where fantasy becomes reality and things get dangerous.
Okay, here’s the deal, straight up: Bliss slams its foot on the pedal and launches us into a world of blood spilling, coke snorting, booze guzzling chaos and it’s an absolute pleasure. On the outside, Bliss is a vampire movie that’s unlike any vampire movie we have ever seen. There’s nothing sexy or Victorian about it, this is gutter punk guerilla style vampirism that feels as dirty as it looks. Begos is an auteur. The way his camera captures the feel of heavy metal hedonism with fangs is an ecstatic pandemonium. Begos has always leaned into a raw and visceral style, but with Bliss he has managed to turn the dial up to eleven and capture something fantastical that feels so savagely real. It replicates the best moments of films like Green Room or Mandy but through Begos distinct lo-fi and street level lens, this is a truly unique and stand out effort of the bloodsucker genre.
The cast allows Begos to really show off and for the story to go off the rails. We have a variety of great turns from a handful of established genre vets. Indie genre favorite Graham Skipper plays a gruff and charming drug dealer, Hadrian, who is also accompanied by surprising pop-up appearance from George Wendt. Jeremy Gardner plays psuedo-boyfriend Clive and is as likable as ever but has a spin on his role in the third act that is small in screen time but extremely effective. Rhys Wakefield (of The Purge fame) and and Tru Collins are Sid and Nancy reimagined as demons, they’re James Dean cool but laced with LSD, and Collins ultimately goes from a supporting character to an integral, terrifying piece. It all hinges, though, on our lead Dora Madison, playing our asshole burnout artist Dezzy. Madison is transcendent. She is rough around the edges, but vulnerable. She is curt and vile and mean but sensitive with an artistic spirit. She’s downright unlikable and a total asshole but carries us through this journey riding a line of anxious tension that will have your heart pounding throughout.
Bliss is a story about a lot of things. It’s about artistic obsession. It’s about choices. It’s about addiction. Begos is able to craft a horrifying, brutal tale about riding that power and pleasure found through addiction as it slowly kills you and everyone around you. The magic, however, lies in Begos ability to do this without ever feeling hamfisted or preachy. Instead, Bliss gets the point across while also being the most unique and interesting take on vampires in forever, this isn’t a stab at reinventing the genre, it’s a molotov cocktail lighting the whole damn thing on fire.