I always consider it a point of pride when I see a film people walk out of. At House of 1000 Corpses, a couple walked out as the woman loudly declared “let’s get the FUCK out of here!”; another pair fled Suspiria (2018) after a nasty bit of body contortion. So it pleased me that a few folks just couldn’t sit through Bliss, writer/director Joe Begos’ hallucinogenic vampire flick playing the Midnight category at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interestingly, they all left before any of the bloody mayhem even got started; the visceral intensity of the filmmaking seems to be what they couldn’t handle.
Bliss opens with a warning about strobe effects, which seems as much part of the exploitation tradition as a legitimate caveat. After a day glo, rock and roll opening title sequence, we meet Dezzy (Dora Madison), a starving artist struggling to pay the bills while battling a pretty heavy drug problem. She’s got a deadline looming for her latest piece, an appropriately eerie painting of souls writhing in fire, but she can’t seem to find the inspiration to finish it, despite the help of a well-meaning boyfriend Clive (Jeremy Gardner). Maybe that’s because she’s too busy scoring drugs from her pal Hadrian (Graham Skipper) and partying with her girlfriend and sometime lover Courtney (Tru Collins, giving off trashy Lady Gaga vibes) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). When Hadrian slips her a coke variant called Bliss, Dezzy’s instantly hooked, but the bad trip it sends her on is compounded by a simultaneous thirst for blood. Dezzy’s life quickly spins out of control—to put it mildly.
Bliss is an impressively crafted movie, with stunning cinematography and lighting and a hard driving metal soundtrack. Madison is remarkable as Dezzy, a character that could easily come off as selfish and obnoxious, but who is vividly real and funny in the actress’ capable hands. The screenplay is smart and pretty damn funny, and the intensity of the filmmaking makes Bliss a movie you experience more than watch. There’s also outstanding use of locations—the various bars, Dezzy’s apartment, and Hadrian’s house are all vividly real places. Where Bliss might be polarizing is with regards to the copious drug use and the extremely intense, bloody violence (thought to be fair, isn’t that exactly what a vampire movie should have in spades?). The finale is so gruesomely over the top that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. But this movie really goes for it, and Begos and his crew are undeniably talented. However you feel about Bliss, you won’t soon forget it.
Bliss screens Wednesday at 9:45 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Visit tribecafilm.com for more info.