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A tale of trauma and toxic masculinity, “Bliss of Evil” is part slasher, part psychological horror, and part woman-fights-back thriller.

We open on a text screen that states the events of this film are inspired by those that took place in Brisbane, Australia, during the winter of 1997. Though the names have been changed, the rest of the story claims to be factually based.

It’s incredibly intriguing and unsettling watching a film you know was inspired by actual events. Though, in this case, like so many other “based on true story” premises, those claims seem dramatically over-inflated.

Based on my research, Bliss of Evil seems to be loosely inspired by an amalgamation of events, elements of personal and anecdotal stories, and kernels of truth.

Rather than recounting a true story, the film is more inspired by ideas about psychological trauma and experiences with toxic band members shared by producer Lauren Shaw, who hails from a musical family and spent much of her young adult years in rehearsal and recording studios, as well as co-producer Corrie Hinschen and composer Nate Collins, who are both active and long-time members of the underground Brisbane music scene.

This doesn’t keep the film from being compelling, but it may frustrate some viewers who are expecting more of a true-crime angle. It is puzzling to start the film with such a bold claim regarding the voracity of the film’s events.

The film opens with a woman named Isla (Sharnee Tones) as she wakes up paralyzed with fear from a night terror, and it soon becomes clear this is not an uncommon occurrence. She’s recovering from some traumatic event but trying hard to focus on things that matter to her — like her girlfriend, Nic (Shanay De Marco), and her work as a sound engineer.

Isla is on her way to assist Nic with her band’s rehearsal at a music studio Isla’s family owns.

Other members of the band, Prom Night, include the loud, hot-headed bass guitarist Roy (Brendan R Burman-Bellenger) and the laid-back, carefree drummer Rhea (Emily Rowbottom). Joining the band is a vivacious groupie named Courtney (Chenaya Aston), invited by Roy, and Isla’s loyal and protective best friend, Jamie (Michaela Da Costa), who insists on joining for moral support.

When they arrive at rehearsal, they also meet the newest addition to the band, Lee (Jordan Schulte), scouted by Nic. He’s there to replace a former bandmate who left under mysterious circumstances. Though talented, Lee immediately rubs the members of the band and Isla the wrong way with his off-putting arrogance, smug attitude, and womanizing tendencies.

At first, Jamie is charmed by Lee, quickly becoming the recipient of his aggressive flirting, but his intensity soon turns off as he comes on too strong, too fast.

During a break, Rhea sneaks off to make out with the beautiful Courtney behind Roy’s back while Lee attempts to seduce Jamie.

An irritated Nic breaks up the triste between Rhea and Courtney and shuts down a squabble between Roy and Rhea after Roy. She chastises the two for not taking the rehearsal seriously and demands they get their act together. She then goes off to find Lee so they can get back to work.

When she finds Lee, he’s knelt down over Jamie’s dead body, whose throat has been sliced. When Lee sees Nic, he panics, brandishing a knife at her while insisting he wasn’t responsible for Jamie’s death, no matter how suspicious it might look.

Lee tries to flee, but Roy knocks him out and ties him to a chair. While Lee sobs and protests his innocence, the others go off to deliberate and figure out a plan. Soon, they realize someone has chained up all the exits and locked them in with a killer who wants them all dead.

The rest of the film is a tense battle for survival as they face off against a demented ‘BLOODFACE’ killer.

The aptly monikered madman (played by producer Corrie Hinschen) has secrets of his own.

The film unravels its mysteries adeptly, with viewers eventually discovering who he is, what he wants, and the source of Isla’s pervasive trauma and psychological scars. The concept is interesting, and I love the savvy use of a claustrophobic single-setting to maximize the limited budget and increase tension.

It’s not surprising that a film centered around musicians uses music to great effect.  A centerpiece of the film is an original song called Bliss of Evil, written and performed by Corrie Hinschen. It’s haunting and used as a strong narrative device that connects the predator and his prey.

Though it works as a low-budget, indie slasher, producer Shaw has a Ph.D. in Psychology and was especially interested in the film’s subtext about trauma, male entitlement, and toxic masculinity.

Those who find it difficult to handle onscreen depictions of violence against women may need a trigger warning. The film does include a rape scene. However, it is handled delicately and with every attempt to avoid exploitation. The violence is implied rather than explicitly shown, which will be appreciated by many viewers.

The acting is consistently good, and Tones really shines in a role that requires a lot of emotional range and depth.

There’s a powerful scene when she is triggered by a song that reminds her of a painful memory, and her anguish is palpable and heart-wrenching. She’s relatable and sympathetic, and it’s easy to invest in her as the primary protagonist.

It’s also incredibly satisfying to see her find her inner strength in the face of considerable fear, anguish, and victimization.

The ending is immensely satisfying, and it was a thrill to see such strong female empowerment and camaraderie in the face of male abuse and violence.

Without giving too much away, I also greatly appreciated the subversion of stereotypes in the characterization of the groupie, given her intelligence, thoughtfulness, and agency you aren’t expecting when she’s first introduced.

It’s a lean 90 minutes and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace that keeps you fully engaged.

Bliss of Evil also boasts a diverse cast and crew, with great representation in front of and behind the camera.

There’s no doubt it’s a low-budget affair, and it’s far from perfect. But it’s creative and sincere, and there’s certainly enough good here to make it worth your while and to serve as a solid showcase for Joshua Morris in his feature film directorial debut.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

Bliss of Evil is currently enjoying a successful festival run and has already secured distribution via BayView Entertainment and Mutiny Pictures.

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