Salem Horror Fest: Bliss Of Evil (2023)

Director: Joshua Morris

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Starring: Sharnee Tones, Jordan Schulte, Michaela Shuttleworth, Corrie Hinschen, Shanay De Marco, Brendan R Burman-Bellenger, Chenaya Aston, Emily Rowbottom

Set in Brisbane, Australia during the winter of 1997, director Joshua Morris opens his film with sound engineer Isla (Sharnee Tones) awakening to a panic attack. A traumatic event has left her struggling, which compels best friend Jamie (Michaela Shuttleworth) to tag along for support during the day's band rehearsal. Leading the band is Isla's girlfriend, Nic (Shanay De Marco), who's avoiding her feelings by focusing on getting her band signed to a major record label, intent on them becoming more than "the best band in Brisbane".

Joining the band is new addition Lee (Jordan Schulte), who makes awkward first impressions while coming off strongly in his advances towards Jamie. The group work in a recording studio owned by Isla's uncle, introduced shouting at customers who consider themselves "The Beatles meets Kris Kross". A tour is given of the studio, allowing viewers and the band to understand the layout of this setting.

During the recording, a mention of the titular song conjures bad memories which leaves everyone on edge. While Isla gives her blessing for the band to play it, an impressive sequence zooms in on the sound engineers face while drowning out the music's sound, highlighting how it's triggering for her. It's clear nobody is properly dealing with their emotions which leaves the trauma to spill out in harmful ways and threaten these well conveyed relationships.

A horrifying discovery generates mistrust through the group as concerns and questions are raised amidst rising tensions. Matters worsen upon discovering the group are locked inside the studio with the phone lines dead, leaving them trapped without a way to contact the outside world. Is the perpetrator one of the group, or are they not alone?

After a first-half which built the tension amidst the uncertainty of who's responsible, director Joshua Morris and co-writer Corrie Hinschen change gears to get into the killer's mindset before rapidly revealing them. With the identity laid bare, what was previously interesting feels cast aside for a more conventional slasher involving an unmemorable antagonist with mommy issues. Hurting matters are unnecessary flashbacks which are forcibly crammed in ways which interrupt the film's flow, shattering the goodwill left by an effective first-half for something less-interesting which wraps up suddenly.

Bliss Of Evil made its Northeast Premiere at Soho Horror Fest