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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Love Lies Bleeding


Jackie (Katy O'Brian) and Lou (Kristen Stewart) develop a fast passion for each other in Love Lies Bleeding (Distributed by A24)

Love Lies Bleeding is a creative, engaging, well-paced, over-the-top, blood-soaked, neo-noir, about love, murder, revenge and bodybuilding. Director/cowriter Rose Glass has made a movie that feels pretty familiar while being completely original at the same time. It is a dark, character-based, thriller with elements we have definitely seen before, assembled in a way we haven’t. It’s bold and singular, smart and chaotic.


Style means so much in this genre, as does tone. Glass found the perfect approach for her story. Colors are dark and muted, washed-out. Emotions are heightened, especially anger and lust. The performances toe the line between realistic and amplified right along with the writing. The story may sound a tad derivative, but the execution certainly isn’t. It is exciting to see a confident, assured, voice telling an oddly distinct female story. Rose Glass is one to watch and this is one to see.


The year is 1989. Lou is miserable. She has a dead-end job in a gym and stays in her dead-end town to futilely attempt to protect her sister from her abusive husband. Then Jackie arrives. She is a bodybuilder killing time and making some easy money waiting for a competition in Las Vegas. Total opposites, they meet at the gym and hit it off instantly. Thus begins an adventure involving sex, steroids and Lou’s dangerous estranged father.


Sexual passion, murderous family, a protagonist with little to live for, guns, drugs, sudden violence, unsavory characters, etc. These are all staples of modern noir. Dark stories with complicated “heroes” doing bad things for understandable reasons. Love Lies Bleeding (99 minutes, without the end credits) falls neatly into that tradition. Lou and Jackie are both haunted by pasts they can’t shake. Lou because her past is her father; Jackie because she doesn’t seem to like herself very much, so how could anyone else? The trouble they get into is a little bit circumstance, though it is mostly due to their own personal demons leading them toward unwise reactions.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is the way it handles female bodybuilding. Muscle-bound women are often treated like grotesque freaks, sideshows or intimidating monsters. Here, the camera sees Jackie the way Lou does: as strong and beautiful. It admires her. Even as her steroid use escalates and its effect on her body becomes exaggerated, it never demeans or others her. The characters who do are clearly seen as stupid or cruel.


Jackie and her motives are never fully spelled out by the screenplay. For the most part, she is seen through Lou’s eyes, yet this is about both of them finding freedom in each other. Kristen Stewart, one of the most underappreciated actors working today, is very good as Lou. She wants to be invisible, not because she is afraid of what others think of her but because, by living, she is punishing herself for things she is ashamed of. She hides herself in nondescript clothes and rarely speaks up until she meets Jackie. Stewart is never showy. Regardless of the character she plays, she fits it perfectly. Lou is no exception.


Katy O’Brian was an unknown to me before this and she is impressive in a difficult role. Jackie is a symbol of strength and individuality to Lou. On the inside, she’s a bundle of insecurities. Her arc isn’t as sharp or significant as what Kristen Stewart gets to play. Still, her presence is the most important in the movie. She infuses it with an unpredictability that is exciting to watch.


Love Lies Bleeding is violent, messy and ends in a way that will likely displease some viewers. As a fan of the genre, I found it engrossing. Rose Glass is absolutely a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

 

4 out of 5

 

Cast:

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

 

Directed by Rose Glass

Written by Rose Glass and Weronika Tofilska

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