When the trailer for Joe Begos’ Bliss hit the internet roughly two weeks ago, people kind of lost their shit. Begos has become a bit of a cult figure in recent years with indie standouts, Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye, racking up positive reviews in the festival scene. He’s even fronting Fangoria’s upcoming film, V.F.W. And while there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the young filmmaker, one stands out above them all–style. Joe Begos isn’t simply churning out genre films, he’s melting faces with eye-popping practical effects and crafting his own gritty, old-school aesthetic that is unparalleled in most contemporary horror offerings. Bliss, which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is positioned to be his most remarkable film to date, and in many ways, it is.
Bliss follows an accomplished young painter by the name of Dezzy. Unfortunately for her, Dezzy has an exhibit where pieces aren’t selling and a new commission that is woefully behind her impending deadline. Her creative juices are drying up, and real-world consequences are crashing down on top of her as a result. It’s likely a scenario that every single creative person can identify with in one way or another, but Dezzy comes to the conclusion that all she needs to get back on track is a jump-start. She proceeds to spiral into a drug-fueled stupor that leaves her with gaps in time and a hell of a hangover. As it turns out though, it’s exactly what she needed. Her latest painting is back on track and all is well… except that she finds herself craving human blood more and more with each passing day.
The setup is an intriguing one, and that narrative thread remains interesting and engaging throughout the film’s brisk 74 minute runtime. That said, many questions are left unanswered or even unaddressed in Begos’ grimy vampire tale. It’s important to note however, that for me, Bliss is more about overcoming creative roadblocks–even when doing so can be destructive to your mental or physical health–than it is about actual vampires. That said, it is disappointing that something with so much lore surrounding it is left relatively unexplored. Don’t worry, though. Begos and his band of frequent collaborators deliver exactly what the debut trailer sets you up for–creative cinematography, moody performances, and buckets of blood dedicated to some of the most impressive on-screen kills I’ve seen in quite some time. Simply put, Bliss is a bloody triumph that can’t be ignored by horror fans.
The decision to forego digital formats and shoot on Super 16mm film was a crucial one. It’s a perfect compliment to the world Begos has crafted, and while it’s not uncommon for modern movies to add film grain overlays in post production, there’s nothing quite like the real thing. Bliss relies on good ol’ fashioned manual labor, and that speaks volumes to genre fans–myself included.
While I believe the film would be enhanced by additional vampire lore or the “rules” mentioned in dialogue, the omission of both is not enough to detract from the final product. Bliss is a lot like The Mind’s Eye in which it feels like our time with these characters is a part of something much larger. We’re simply gaining a peek into this world for an hour and change. The story, while simplistic, is masterfully executed, so the next time someone says “they don’t make ’em like this anymore,” point them to Joe Begos and Channel 83’s growing filmography of homogeneous throwbacks. No one else is doing it like them, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
‘Bliss’ is a Drug-Fueled Bloodbath with a Splash of Vampire [Review]