Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

Love Lies Bleeding Review

Love Lies Bleeding

In this explosive and mysterious thriller, Lou is introduced with her hand stuck in a toilet. The following two hours she will be cleaning up much worse messes than that in Rose Glass’s sensual “Love Lies Bleeding,” a relentless, sexy, violent, kinetic piece of film about love and lies and bleeding. It’s about as subtle as a two-by-four to the face: A steroid-using bodybuilder on steroids of its own, it keeps doubling down and flexing harder with every twist.

A few of those ambitious punches don’t fully land particularly in a frenetic final act but it hardly matters for a movie like this. Its flaws are almost beside the point because what works works so well thrillingly so that they’re overshadowed by the muscularity of Glass’ vision. They’re like tiny pebbles kicked up in the wake of a speeding train.

Lou lives in one of those towns that time forgot about 20 years before the story takes place there (depending on how strictly you want to define “time”). She lives in middle of nowhere New Mexico at the tail end of 1989, around when Rambo was getting ready to take that long walk out of southeastern Washington state. The first Gulf War was still months away from kicking off Operation Desert Shield.

It’s also set at the end of an era for these movies: We’ve had our fun with musclebound heroes who blasted their way through walls made out of foil; we’re ready for some stories about people who can get shot and die if you hit them hard enough with enough bullets. So there’s something fitting about placing Lou right here at this time.

Ed Harris plays her father, Lou Sr., who runs guns across the border from his gun range and throws his enemies into that nice ravine just outside town (possibly including Lou’s mother). Jena Malone plays Lou’s sister Beth, who is married to a mulleted Dave Franco and who is suffering under the yoke of domestic abuse. They’re both great, as always.

And then there’s Jackie (Katy O’Brian), who blows into town like a flame on the wind that old story. In this case she’s a bodybuilder, stopping off to train before she heads to Vegas for some contest or other. She’s like nothing Lou has ever seen in her life; they fall in love in no time, punctuating their steroid doses with various kinds of extremely demanding physical activities.

O’Brian plays Jackie like some kind of superhero, getting stronger with every injection of either steroids or Lou’s dedication to her but she’s got her Bruce Banner side too. At first “Love Lies Bleeding” feels like a relatively straightforward noir, with out-of-towner Jackie blundering into decisions from which there can be no return; it’s been compared to “Drive” and “Thelma & Louise,” but there’s a little bit of “Red Rock West” in there too, among others.

But these are stories about strangers trapped in small towns they only wanted to spend a night in; they never leave when we expect them to. And so it goes here: Just when you think you know where “Love Lies Bleeding” is headed boom. It fakes left and swerves right instead.

Some of that is because Rose Glass hasn’t made a typical neo-noir thriller. She’s made something that doesn’t so much subvert tropes like the femme fatale as detonate them, becoming more surreal and unpredictable, if you can believe it; think of a bad acid trip on steroids. Some narrative fireworks in the final act might be too much for some people, and I do think Jackie’s character gets lost in the haze of the narrative function she serves, though O’Brian is an exciting discovery who uses her physicality with a matter-of-factness that never feels showy. Neither does Glass go Refn-esque stylized either, but she definitely edges up towards overdone without ever crossing that line; she keeps the film intentionally gritty and sweaty and dirty (major props to an excellent Clint Mansell score too) which only adds to its substance and stakes.

Also let’s face it the usually-great Kristen Stewart always knows exactly what to do. She plays Lou not as a wide-eyed loser desperate to escape her life but as someone whose voice has been amplified by her love for Jackie; it’s crucial that Lou isn’t just a victim here, and Stewart brings confidence and vulnerability to a character who should be both at once. She’s the cleaner (also I love how much “Love Lies Bleeding” emphasizes how acts of violence have very practical aftermaths which must be cleaned up). It’s great work.

Like “Saint Maud,” “Love Lies Bleeding” is about obsession; where that stunning debut was about an obsession with faith/religion, this one is about all the things people use to feel strong guns, muscles etc. Glass sets characters up with clear goals (Jackie wants to win, Lou wants Jackie, dad wants power etc.) then bounces them off each other in increasingly gonzo narrative twists – there’s even a whiff of Gilliam to some of the plotting here. What pushes it over the edge is how much of a handle Glass keeps on her filmmaking as things spiral out of control; even when these characters are practically spiraling off into space, she remains completely grounded.

Watch Love Lies Bleeding For Free On Gomovies.

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