Film reviews and more since 2009

Love Lies Bleeding (2024) review

Dir. Rose Glass

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

When Rose Glass released her unnerving directorial debut Saint Maud, not only did she prove that a woman with a uniquely memorable name like hers fit perfectly with making inventive horror films, but she showed how a project clearly influenced by so many works can function on its own. Saint Maud had elements of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but in the mix of its influences, Glass orchestrated a compelling tale of how a woman’s low self-worth and deep-seated insecurity became the breeding ground for insularity with her faith to a troubling degree.

For her sophomore feature, Love Lies Bleeding, Glass had the cast watch Showgirls in order to achieve the desired tone for the project. There’s definitely some Cronenbergian inspiration with the intense depictions of body mutilation to go along with it. Once again, however, Glass’ influences don’t make her latest film feel like a misguided ripoff. Its title feels like it should be separated by commas (“love, lies, bleeding”), as all three elements are individually integral while combining to make a viscerally entertaining picture.

Set in 1980s New Mexico, the story introduces us to Lou (Kristen Stewart), a gym manager who spends her days cleaning disgusting toilets and helping musclebound men with their workout routines. Plastered all over the gym’s walls are empty platitudes intended to inspire: “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” ‘train at your own risk.” If Lou wasn’t so lost, like so many other desert dwellers in her area, maybe she’d find even momentary inspiration from one of these signs. Instead, she lives check-to-check and tries to manage her sometimes-girlfriend, Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov).

Enter Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a seductive drifter and steroid junkie who hopes to win the U.S. Female Body Building Championship in Las Vegas. Lou and Jackie get romantic with one another, even though Jackie has already had a sexual encounter with Lou’s abusive brother-in-law, J.J. (a mulleted Dave Franco). Lou desperately wants her sister, Beth (Jena Malone), to leave J.J., fearing something terrible will happen to her if she doesn’t. Low and behold, Beth ends up in the ICU with horrific bruises cause by her husband. This sends Jackie into a vindictive roid rage, and prompts Lou’s father (a seedy, balding Ed Harris), the strong-armed owner of a gun ranch and dirty businessman, into action.

Love Lies Bleeding is the lesbian, neo-noir film adaptation of “Goodbye Earl” you didn’t know you needed. It’s a bloody, bombastic crime drama textured by some creative directing from Glass, an ominously memorable score from Clint Manswell, and peppered with strong performances.

The standout is Kristen Stewart, yet again throwing herself into a role, this time defined by anger, lust, and sexuality as she struggles to gain control on her rapidly spiraling life. Katy O’Brian goes gonzo as Jackie, whose body Glass frequently shows in intense close-ups. Syringes stab her thighs, buttocks, and belly button at very various points, and her body subsequently contorts itself into a mess of protruding veins. O’Brian practically becomes feral the more her body changes and emotions run unpredictable. She keeps up with each beat.

Glass reworks the formula of noir by avoiding common tropes such as the femme fatale. She has bigger plans for her characters, as well as some stunning narrative swings, which makes Love Lies Bleeding pleasantly difficult to predict. That said, I’m not entirely sure its climax is completely successful. Although Glass and cowriter Weronika Tofilska spend much of the movie capturing Jackie’s physically altered body in surrealistic closeups, one particular creative choice in the final minutes feels like a shocking curve-ball because it doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the story. Its placement and timing is a convenience in a film that forced its characters into tough, compromising situations with no easy escape.

As was the case with Saint Maud, Glass doubles down on obsession as a core theme in her follow-up, although instead of this being a story of religious obsession, it’s instead about individuals who are hyper-fixated on the perception of power (through guns, muscles, and drugs). It’s a credible story of star-crossed lovers too, so much so that it even exceeds Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls, an infinitely more-lighthearted lesbian dramedy released last month that might’ve benefited from a dose of this film’s black market medicine.

NOTE: Love Lies Bleeding is now playing exclusively in theaters.

My review of Saint Maud

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, and Dave Franco. Directed by: Rose Glass.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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