Director/Screenplay – Joe Begos, Producers – Joe Begos, Josh Ethier, Lyle Kanouse, Dora Madison, Caroline Metz, Graham Skipper & Audrey Wasilewski, Photography – Mike Testin, Music – Steve Moore, Visual Effects – DI Post, Makeup Effects – Russell FX (Designers – Josh Russell & Sarah Spence Russell), Production Design – Adele Fenner. Production Company – Channel 83.
Dora Madison (Dizzy Donahue), Jeremy Gardner (Clive), Tru Collins (Courtney), Graham Skipper (Hadrian), Rhys Wakefield (Ronnie), Chris McKenna (David), Rachel Avery (Nikki St. Jean), Mark Beltzmann (Lance), George Wendt (Pops), Abraham Benrubi (Abe), Jesse Merlin (Dante)
Dizzy Donahue is an artist in Los Angeles. She is suffering from a creative block and has been unable to finish a painting for three months now but needs to have it ready for an exhibition in a matter of days. Meanwhile, she is behind in her rent and finds that her agent has dropped her. In search of inspiration, she visits drug dealer Hadrian who gives her the drug Bliss with warnings that it is dangerous. Under its influence, Dizzy embarks on a frenzied drug and sex fuelled trip to find the inspiration she needs to complete the painting. However, her use of Bliss causes her to start having hallucinations and be driven to violently attack people.
Director Joe Begos first appeared with the alien abduction film Almost Human (2013), which I haven’t seen, and followed it up with the psychic powers film The Mind’s Eye (2015), a low-budget homage to David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981). Subsequent to Bliss, Begos went on to make VFW (2019) with the intriguing premise of war veterans fighting off mutants.
I didn’t have a particularly strong impression of The Mind’s Eye and as a result sat down to watch Bliss with no expectation. As it started in, the film seemed to be shaping up to be a regular slice of life piece charting the hardships and travails of someone on the fringes of society as they go about their day. We’ve seen this type of film before from London Kills Me (1991) to Pusher (1998).
And as Dora Madison starts imbibing a great deal in the way of illicit substances, there is the feeling that we have seen this type of film before too in other works that have done the whole drug and alcohol-fuelled trip/bender thing – from The Trip (1967) to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and the more recent likes of Climax (2018) and The Wave (2019). (For greater detail see Films About Drug Hallucinations). For quite some time into Bliss, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to have to write it up as a genre film.
However, there comes a point where Joe Begos starts to draw you into the film’s disturbed headspace. Much of the show – or at least the drug trip and orgy sequences – are shot in frenetic camerawork, stroboscopic lighting, frenzied editing schemes and camera shots constantly circling around Dora Madison, all of which serves to experientially create the feeling of dragging you inside the drug trip. Dora Madison goes for broke and gives a performance where you cannot help but applaud her fearlessness in going all the way, including at various points being on screen completely nude and drenched in blood.
The film gets singularly deranged. There is an intensive threeway sex scene between Dora Madison, Tru Collins and Rhys Wakefield. The film gets demented from about the point where Dora goes nuts in the drug den and bites off Graham Skipper’s fingers followed by a chunk out of George Wendt’s arm then tearing Abraham Benrubi’s throat out with her teeth amid gouts of blood.
It reaches a climax with Dora Madison fighting both Jeremy Gardner and Tru Collins on the floor of her studio amid gory meltdowns and then frenziedly finishing her painting while nude and covered from head to toe in blood. Both Joe Begos and Dora Madison go at this with a deranged excess that proves rather entertaining. Indeed, within the space of a single film, Joe Begos has gone from making a fairly ho-hum B movie to becoming a director you are definitely interested in keeping an eye on in future.