Tribeca ’19 Review: BLISS Is The Edgelord’s Delight
We all know that guy, right? He’s that guy who’s all dark and brooding and plays at being mysterious, but he’s also a god damn adult who thinks that liking metal music is the equivalent to having a personality and so takes himself way too seriously? Yeah, you know the guy I’m talking about. Well, Bliss is that guy interpreted as a movie. I like being totally fuckin’ metal as much as the next person, and I dig a lot of individual elements at play here, but Bliss is so much sillier than it thinks it is that my enjoyment was probably not the kind the filmmakers intended.
The film follows Dezzy (Dora Madison), a struggling painter who cranks out F-bombs like a middle schooler playing Fortnite while her mom’s out of earshot. Dezzy has some serious creative block, so she makes the natural choice to go see her dealer, who sets her up with a potent brand of the drug “bliss.” The high this gives her is unlike anything she’s ever experienced, so she parties and orgies like ya do. However, it also triggers a burst of artistic energy into her masterpiece-in-progress that only manifests when she’s blacked out, and when she isn’t mindlessly creating, Dezzy starts having a hankering for human blood that she can’t explain or control.
Now, like I said, Bliss is playing with individual elements that I do quite like and appreciate. Madison’s performance is abrasive and obnoxious, but when the part requires her to go full bore she is fully committed and exceptionally nasty. The low lighting and seedy neon underground of Dezzy’s nightlife hangouts provide a definitive aesthetic and atmosphere that made me appreciate her world even if I didn’t particularly want to live in it. And at the bare bones of writer-director Joe Begos’ screenplay is an interesting examination of the dynamic relationship between artist, substance abuse, co-dependence, and artistic product that absolutely bears further examination.
But Bliss can’t keep itself from leaning so heavily into its hardcore elements that it loops back around into self-parodic absurdity. The neon-soaked atmosphere gives way to strobing scenes that are meant to be hallucinogenic but instead feel simply disorienting. The soundtrack blares hardcore metal songs complete with shouted lyrics that desperately want to convey the heightened emotion of Dezzy’s drugged out state, but it really just feels like you wandered into a Hot Topic and the employees don’t realize the music’s too loud. And when the blood and eventually gore make their way onto the scene, it arrives so suddenly and is so over-the-top that its significance to Dezzy’s spiral out of control was completely lost to my fits of incredulous laughter. If the goal was to be shocking, mission accomplished, but that shock probably provoked the precise opposite of the intended reaction.
There’s a good movie buried somewhere in Bliss, but at the end of the day it seems like the filmmakers were trying way too hard to bring artificial edge to a story wielded too bluntly to be cutting. The result is a film that’s completely pretentious about its trashiness, and the trash is so clueless as to its extremity that it becomes comic. If this ends up being a film for you, then great, more power to you. But also maybe take a step back and evaluate whether you might need to lighten up a little.