LOVE LIES BLEEDING is a Steroid-Infused Shot of Cinema

Smart and muscular filmmaking from Rose Glass, aided by the one-two punch of Kristin Stewart and Katy O’Brian

Back in 2020, despite a release hampered by the pandemic, Saint Maud seared itself into our psyche. A grim psychological thriller infused with Catholic guilt, that earned a cult following, and planted its star Morfydd Clark (Rings of Power) and writer /director Rose Glass on the map. The filmmaker is back with her sophomore effort Love Lies Bleeding, where she showcases an even firmer grasp on her craft. A shift from the shores of Scarborough to the sands of New Mexico for a love story between two women in a small town that collides with the local criminal element that each have ties to.

Kristen Stewart plays Lou, the manager of a gym in a podunk town just outside Albuquerque. Walled off from customers, and other locals who try to connect with her, until in walks Jackie ( Katy O’Brian). New to town, putting down roots for a few months to earn a buck, and prepare for an upcoming female bodybuilding competition Las Vegas. Their connection is instantaneous, and a sweet and frequently steamy relationship follows, one that stumbles as Lou’s emotional baggage starts to surface. Her sister (Jena Malone) is trapped in an abusive marriage with an odious womanizer named JJ (Dave Franco), who works for their father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris) at a local gun range. Something that serves as a front for his criminal enterprises that seem to revolve around gun running across the Mexican border, and the occasional splash of violence. Matters are further complicated by Jackie’s own ties to this dubious pair of men, owing to her needing employment when she first arrived in town, their love affair continues. As does Jackie’s training, something taken to new heights by the steroids free flowing through Lou’s gym. When JJ puts Lou’s sister into a coma, the pumped up pair react, setting these two lovebirds on a collision course with Lou Sr.’s criminal enterprise.

Set in the 80s, the film perfectly channels that feeling of growth, liberation, and indulgence, reflected in the background showcasing the end of the Bush era, and fall of the Berlin wall. The aesthetic is here too, not just via neon lights, perms, mullets, and mustaches, but a pervading sense of sleaze and sensuality and Americana. Glass and cinematographer Ben Fordesman showcase the beauty in the brawn of Jackie, and the beauty within this relationship that blossoms in such toxic surrounds. Written by Glass, along with Weronika Tofilska, Love Lies Bleeding is a potent entry to the neo-noir genre, but flexes within it’s own space. Something aided by upending what is typically a male-dominated sub-genre. A mix of dark humor, unnerving violence, and an enduring sense of romance. The criminal underbelly of this town offers intrigue, but the catalyst comes from the actions of Lou and Jackie, both in terms of starting trouble, and resolving it. Matters resonate all the more as the film roots Lou’s issues with her own past, and ties to her father’s illicit activities. The film is less interested in a twisty narrative, but more in the fallout, both physical and psychological. Moments tilt into the surreal, muscles flex and crunch, bodies grow and contort in the shadows, exaggerations of visuals and sounds that highlight surges of emotion, both sexual and violent. For Lou, there are flashes of evil acts and a dark, red-lit chasm where secrets are buried, that propel the film into its latter half. This internalized drama, as much as the external was something that fueled Saint Maud, and Glass deploys it effectively here again. This fantastical edge adds to an impressive vibe. Sexy but not staged. Gritty but alluring. A veneer of sweat and grime, and a synth-heavy score make this one of the more alluring trips to the theater you’ll take this year.

O’Harris achieves remarkable shifts from a doe-eyed girl with a dream to a hulking volatile mass that could detonate and take a city block out as she goes. It’s yet another quietly intense performance from Stewart that draws the eye, a gruff figure and fidgety counterpoint to the wide-eyed optimism of Jackie. More is said in her mannerisms and facial ticks about her past relationship with her father than pages of dialogue could convey. What is most admirable, beyond the authenticity in their pairing, is how they elicit an enduring sense of sympathy, even as you become aware of what each of them has done, or might be capable of. Dave Franco nails a loathsome, mullet-totting piece of shit, while Ed Harris exudes quirks and a simmering menace. Another standout is Anna Baryshnikov’s milk-loving chatterbox, whose infatuation with Lou adds some crucial chaos to their best laid plans.

Love Lies Bleeding is smart and muscular filmmaking from Rose Glass, aided by the one-two punch of Kristin Stewart and Katy O’Brian. An unabashedly queer love story about how love can lead you to strange places and questionable decisions, and how despite the flaws within, and tragedy without, the need for connection remains. A pumped up crime thriller that despite all the roid-rage, reminds you that love is the real drug.

Love Lies Bleeding hits theaters on March 15th

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