Love Lies Bleeding, Rose Glass
Photo courtesy of A24

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Drips with Danger and Desire

Rose Glass drenches Love Lies Bleeding in sensation and texture, as if she dragged the film through pools of viscera on the floor of a Foley sound effects studio.

Love Lies Bleeding
Rose Glass
8 March 2024

Rose Glass’ Love Lies Bleeding takes the old Chekov rule and jabs it with a syringe full of steroids. The film doesn’t just make sure the gun that goes off in the third act is present in the first. It puts one protagonist to work at a gun range and gives her not just a serious anger management problem to go along with her sculpted musculature but a girlfriend with a dank criminal past and a temper of her own.

All that signaling amplifies Love Lies Bleeding‘s ambient dread. But the foreboding overkill also removes some of this at-times groundbreaking film’s potential for surprise.

The story, by Glass and Veronika Tofilska (a director on the television series His Dark Materials), takes the durable Jim Thompson stranger-comes-to-small-town noir template, re-centers it around a same-sex female couple, and blows out the visuals in the trademark queasy glossy style of the film’s distributor, A24. Lou (Kristen Stewart) plays the frustrated manager of a gym in a flyspeck Nevada town who is just grinding through the days when Jackie (Katy O’Brian) blows in. A dead-broke aspiring bodybuilder hitchhiking cross-country to a championship contest in Las Vegas, Jackie is a different kind of fatale than we have seen, but no more untrustworthy.

Not that anybody in Love Lies Bleeding deserves the audience’s trust. Lou’s father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), is Jackie’s new boss at the gun range and bar—a dangerous combination, but this is 1980s Nevada. He is both deeply sinister, with his graveyard glare and wispy Crypt Keeper ponytail, and as the town’s resident gangster, deeply dangerous. Lou’s brother-in-law JJ (Dave Franco, sleazy perfection) is a mustachioed Camaro-driving abuser whose preferred target, Beth (Jena Malone), is more likely to turn on her protective sister Lou than the man beating her. While Lou is the ostensible protagonist, a characteristically squirrely performance by Stewart and some blood-red-tinted flashbacks suggest she learned the dark arts while being raised by Lou Sr. and may not be the most stalwart partner.

But few of Love Lies Bleeding‘s characters worry about cause-and-effect. Riveted by Jackie’s appearance in the gym, Lou asks, “You’re not just some straight girl trying things out?” but that’s it for questions. After a meet-cute that involves injecting steroids and punching a leering gym rat, Glass hurls Jackie and Lou together in a tornado of desire so saturated with hormones and risk you half expect the pair to hit the road and start robbing banks. But tornados tend to blow things down, especially as rickety and patched-together a life as Lou has. Pretty soon there is a body to dispose of, FBI agents circling, and very few allies for Jackie and Lou to count on. Not even each other.

Love Lies Bleeding‘s desert atmosphere, outlaw spirit, and lavish violence suggest a queer Thelma and Louise as done by Kathryn Bigelow. As she showed in her gorgeously dark if dramatically nonsensical Saint Maud, Glass is a gothic sensualist. She drenches Love Lies Bleeding in sensation and texture, as though she had dragged film strips through pools of viscera on the floor of a Foley sound effects studio. Fingers are inserted into open wounds, the bottom half of a character’s jaw is smashed off, and Lou spends extensive time cleaning up blood splatter.

There is a lot of dark humor in Love Lies Bleeding, mostly of the skin-crawling variety. However, now and then the laughs come just from the appearance of Lou’s batty and also unreliable ex-girlfriend Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov, giving a tutorial in playing daffy cluelessness for every laugh possible).

While Glass treats Jackie and Lou’s relationship with deep seriousness, even as the pair’s mutual suspicions grow, she treats the rest of Love Lies Bleeding as more of a Grand Guignol carnival ride. There are some lovely images to behold, especially during a lusciously filmed flight of fantasy late in the film, and a cooly slinky Clint Mansell score. But the relentless stylization puts the drama at a distance instead of heightening it. There are enough sparks flashing in the relationship Stewart and O’Brian have conjured here—this love story doesn’t need any help.

RATING 6 / 10