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Movie Review: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’

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(L to R) Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

In theaters now is ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ starring Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, and Dave Franco.

Initial Thoughts

After watching one deeply flawed comedy about lesbian lovers mixed up in two-bit crime (‘Drive Away Dolls’) and another decent but workmanlike thriller about corruption blanketing a small town (‘Red Right Hand’), it’s nice to see a movie that brings both of those together and gets them dead right. ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is a grimy romance about two star-crossed, desperate lovers mixed up in crime, murder, family dysfunction, and, uh, bodybuilding that works on nearly every level.

Story and Direction

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

(L to R) Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

Directed with style by Rose Glass (who also co-wrote the script) and featuring an outstanding cast led by an excellent Kristen Stewart, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ focuses on Stewart’s Lou, a lonely, seemingly standoffish gym manager in a small New Mexico town who’s trying to keep her distance from the druggie, needy Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) and generally keep her head down. But things change when would-be professional bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian) walks into the gym, stopping in town on her way to a national bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas.

Lou and Jackie fall madly and hotly for each other, with Lou providing Jackie with steroids and agreeing to travel with her to Vegas. But those plans are soon called into doubt by events concerning Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone), her brutal brother-in-law JJ (Dave Franco), and Lou’s estranged father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), who not only owns the gym and a local shooting range, but is also a gun-runner with an iron grip on much of the town – including his family, whom he treats with an unsettling mix of menace and tenderness.

Most of the plot details of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ should remain unspoiled, since its twisting, suspenseful blend of unapologetic queer romance, sex, crime, ‘roid rage, and grisly violence are best left to discover as one watches the film. While there is a certain predictability to the overall narrative – this is, in the end, a neo-noir that adheres to many of the genre’s tropes – Glass and co-writer Weronika Tofilska create truly memorable characters and throw in enough curveballs and details to keep one hooked, capably backed by Ben Fordesman’s stunning cinematography and Clint Mansell’s pulsating score.

Katy O'Brian in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

Katy O’Brian in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

In addition to the erotic tension between Lou and Jackie, as well as the much more sinister dynamic between Lou, Lou Sr., and their family, Glass also navigates a successful balance between the film’s gritty, late ‘80s setting (we first meet Lou cleaning out a clogged toilet in the gym, which shares the same unwashed, peeling, faded aesthetic as almost everything else in the film), its stylized cinematography that utilizes glowing neon like paint, and the fantasy sequences that reflect the characters’ obsessive, frenetic mindsets and the film’s fever dream quality.

In one late scene, Lou envisions Jackie in, shall we say, enhanced form, while Jackie, whose ambitions trip easily into unhealthy fixation, imagines her muscles cracking through her skin in Hulk-like fashion. All this turns ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ into a dizzying kaleidoscope of images that is equal parts sexy, sweaty, surreal, and stomach-churning, but which keeps the focus on its small yet effective cast – particularly the two leads, whose desire for each other and something better in their lives provide the fuse that lights this entertaining thriller up.

Complex Characters

Kristen Stewart in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

Kristen Stewart in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

Kristen Stewart gives one of her most raw, passionate performances as Lou. Initially appearing as bored and aloof, resigned her to her life of cleaning vomit out of toilets and presiding over grunting, perspiring men in her dad’s gym, she comes to life when she first spies Jackie. From there, her desire for the bodybuilder – or perhaps her yearning to escape from her dead-end town and the oppressive thumb of her father – drives her to extremes both psychologically and physically.

It’s terrific work from start to finish, and Katy O’Brian nearly matches her in her first major lead role, for which the actor – already experienced in martial arts and bodybuilding – trained extensively to get Jackie into the physically imposing shape she needs for her ambitions. But Jackie is also capable of pushing herself too far, and the combination of that and steroids push her into a state of rage that has devastating consequences. It’s a tour de force from O’Brian, who balances her formidable power with tenderness and vulnerability.

Ed Harris in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

Ed Harris in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

The other major characters are also deftly handled. Although Ed Harris has spent the last few years on ‘Westworld,’ this is the meatiest big-screen role we’ve seen him in for a while, and he delivers brilliantly. Lou Sr. is both a seemingly loving father and a ruthless crime king, capable of being protective and caring yet also unrelenting and frightening. Jena Malone is heartbreaking as his other daughter, Beth, the acquiescent victim of domestic abuse, while Dave Franco parlays his normal charm into something insidiously toxic as her sleazy, vicious husband JJ.

Related Article: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian and Rose Glass Talk ‘Love Lies Bleeding’

Final Thoughts: No Sophomore Slump

Katy O'Brian and Kristen Stewart in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

(L to R) Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

Rose Glass arrived on the scene in 2019 with ‘Saint Maud,’ a hallucinatory psychological horror film about a caregiver whose religious fervor carves out a horrific path for both herself and her patient. Glass switches genres effortlessly with ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ employing some of the same surrealistic imagery and visual palette to tell a more complex story. Some of that imagery and some of the humor is a bit jarring within the overall tone of the movie, and there’s a certain inevitability that comes with the genre territory, but ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is still an outstanding second feature from this British filmmaker.

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.

“Revenge gets ripped.”

R1 hr 44 minMar 8th, 2024

Showtimes & Tickets

From Director Rose Glass comes an electric new love story; reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Vegas… Read the Plot

What is the plot of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’?

Reclusive gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) falls unexpectedly in love with a body builder named Jackie (Katy O’Brian) who stops in her New Mexico town. But Lou’s unsavory family history and Jackie’s rage issues pull them into an unexpected web of violence that neither one of them may escape.

Who is in the cast of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’?

  • Kristen Stewart as Lou
  • Katy O’Brian as Jackie
  • Ed Harris as Lou Sr.
  • Jena Malone as Beth
  • Dave Franco as JJ
  • Anna Baryshnikov as Daisy
Katy O'Brian in 'Love Lies Bleeding.'

Katy O’Brian in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ Photo: A24.

Other Movies Similar to ‘Love Lies Bleeding’:

Buy Tickets: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Movie Showtimes

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