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[Panic Fest Review] BLISS OF EVIL is a Queer Horror Mystery With a Rock and Roll Sound


Sharnee Tones in BLISS OF EVIL (2023), directed by Josh Morris - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of BayView Entertainment and Mutiny Pictures

The music scene can be brutal for up-and-comers. Too often, women have to endure microaggressions and sexual harassment from producers, managers, and even their own bandmates if they want a chance at making it big. Written and directed by Josh Morris and Corrie Hinschen, female-driven Bliss of Evil is a gutting rendition of the slasher genre set within the context of a band’s recording session gone wrong.


Inspired by horror stories of toxicity in the indie music scene. Bliss of Evil successfully explores themes of trauma and accountability while building serious tension within the claustrophobic setting of a run-down recording studio. Audiences should be warned that this film contains depictions of sexual assault and violence.


Blood pours down sheet music and various musical instruments, and the potential for a bloodbath only heightens as the plot unravels. The film follows Isla (Sharnee Tones), a sound engineer plagued by sleep paralysis caused by a traumatic and mysterious event in her past. Joined by her best friend Jamie (Michaela Da Costa), Isla prepares for a night at her family’s recording studio for a band rehearsal. Once darkness falls, she and her girlfriend Nic’s (Shanay De Marco) band become trapped in the cramped studio with a madman (Hinschen) whose face is covered in blood.


As distrust and fear build, Isla is forced to confront her past to survive the night. Told through flashbacks and jump cuts, Bliss of Evil utilizes experimental sound mixing and cinematography, courtesy of cinematographer Damien Hussey and composer Nate Collins, to signify the impact of suppressed trauma and PTSD. The effect is electric, perfectly magnifying Isla’s distress and terror.



Jordan Schulte, Shanay De Marco, Emily Rowbottom, and Brendan R Burman-Bellenger in BLISS OF EVIL (2023), directed by Josh Morris - Panic Fest 2023
Courtesy of BayView Entertainment and Mutiny Pictures

Disappointingly, Bliss of Evil doesn’t succeed in other areas. On the surface, its queer characters and tender subject matter push the envelope, playing at feminist themes and motifs, but there’s a letdown when inspected under a finer lens. A stalwart effort is made to point a finger at the more subtle impacts of rape culture. Still, when Isla’s own sexual assault is played out in a disturbing auditory format, the film takes a turn from tasteful to gratuitous. As most of the gore and violence on screen is relatively tame or left to the audience's imagination, it doesn’t sit right that Isla’s sexual assault is the most graphic and detailed scene (despite being off camera) in the film. While it is an effectively and viscerally horrifying moment, it counteracts much of the heavy lifting the film does to be feminist.


Certainly, the women come out on top, but aside from its (relatively abrupt) ending, Bliss of Evil fails to comment on anything with an authentically feminist (and intersectional) approach. The queer women are called slurs by a straight man with no consequence or reproach, and Jamie is permitted to spread racist stereotypes with little more than an acknowledgment that her comments are somewhat racist. As a result, the film’s feminist writing feels shallow when inspected.


Brendan R Burman-Bellenger, Sharnee Tones, and Emily Rowbottom in BLISS OF EVIL (2023), directed by Josh Morris - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of BayView Entertainment and Mutiny Pictures

That said, Bliss of Evil is an absorbing experience. Its colorful cast makes us care for them. While their deaths are anticlimactic — due to the film’s tame violence — each loss is felt by the absence of what the individual characters offered in the company of one another. The cast has electric chemistry, making them feel like long-time friends. At no point do they feel like caricatures. Except, of course, in the case of Isla’s rapist.


Hinschen pulls triple duty, writing, producing the film, and playing its titular villain, known only as Bloodface. The character appears to be inspired by villains like Michael Myers as Bloodface is silent for most of the film, save for when he sings, “Bliss of Evil.” His beautiful vocals are a startling and haunting contrast to the horror of his character. Hinschen brings the monster from Isla’s nightmares to life with a boogeyman-like intensity.


Extraneous in places and off-color in others, Bliss of Evil is rather enjoyable, with several important things to say about why evil people do terrible things. Bolstered by songs that feel fresh and indicative of the film’s genre and styling, Hinschen’s original discography is uniquely memorable. The story unravels cleanly, with an ending that may be sudden but is ultimately gratifying.


 



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