by Hope Madden
What does true art require of its maker? It’s an incredibly common theme in film (and books and sculpture and painting and any other kind of art) because, for an artist, it’s a common point of introspection. Why am I doing this, why aren’t I better than this, what would I give to be really great?
There’s such an underlying element of the diabolical and desperate in these questions that it’s only sensible so many horror flicks have sprung from this well. From Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood in ’59 to Sean Byrne’s Devil’s Candy in 2015, horror movies love to explore what we’re willing to become if only our art could be great.
Joe Begos returns to the concept with Bliss, an unrelenting attack on the senses that equates artistic obsession with addiction and monstrosity.
Frenetically paced and entirely reliant on Dora Madison’s impressive performance, Bliss works like a hypnotic pulse. Madison plays artist and malcontent Dezzy, who opens the film dodging her landlord, tooling LA in her convertible caddy and panicking. She can’t finish her latest piece, her agent wants to drop her, she’s about to lose her exhibit space.
Why isn’t her dealer answering the goddamn phone?
When she does catch up with him, he has something potent for her. She goes a little overboard and by the time she’s semi-conscious again, a house party is in full rage, the drugs, beat and sexy look from an old friend propelling Dezzy into a hypnotic night of excess and debauchery. But somewhere in the stew and slurry of the night, her painting starts to take shape.
It’s intriguing that the more minor the character, the more likable the performance. Begos seems not to want you to care about the lead or those closest to her, and that’s always an intriguing approach to a film.
The only real problem with Bliss is its lack of originality, but that’s a pretty big problem. Quick cuts and quicker tempo, nimble performances and concussive beat, like Gaspar Noe’s Climax, Bliss leaves you feeling worn out. But with little new to say, it mainly leaves you feeling more hung over than entertained.