Love Lies Bleeding

Kristen Stewart plunges into a wild 80s-set tale of love, lust, blood and violence in the latest standout from 'Saint Maud' filmmaker Rose Glass.
Sarah Ward
Published on March 12, 2024

Overview

In Love Lies Bleeding, a craggy ravine just outside a dusty New Mexico town beckons, ready to swallow sordid secrets in the dark of the desert's starry night. Tumbling into it, a car explodes in flames partway through the movie, exactly as the person pushing it in wants it to. There's the experience of watching Ross Glass' sophomore film emblazoned across the feature's very frames. After the expertly unsettling Saint Maud, the British writer/director returns with a second psychological horror, this time starring Kristen Stewart in the latest of her exceptionally chosen post-Twilight roles (see: Crimes of the Future, Spencer, Happiest Season, Lizzie, Personal Shopper, Certain Women and Clouds of Sils Maria). An 80s-set queer and sensual tale of love, lust, blood and violence, Love Lies Bleeding is as inkily alluring as the gorge that's pivotal to its plot, and as fiery as the inferno that swells from the canyon's depths. This neon-lit, synth-scored neo-noir thriller scorches, too — and burns so brightly that there's no escaping its glow.

When the words "you have to see it to believe it" also grace Love Lies Bleeding — diving in gyms and in the bodybuilding world, it's no stranger to motivational statements such as "no pain no gain", "destiny is a decision" and "the body achieves what the mind believes" — they help sum up this wild cinematic ride as well. Glass co-scripts here with Weronika Tofilska (they each previously penned and helmed segments of 2015's A Moment in Horror), but her features feel like the result of specific, singular and searing visions that aren't afraid to swerve and veer boldly and committedly to weave their stories and leave an imprint. Accordingly, Love Lies Bleeding is indeed a romance, a crime flick and a revenge quest. It's about lovers on the run and intergenerational griminess. It rages against the machine. It's erotic, a road trip and unashamedly pulpy. It also takes the concept of strong female leads to a place that nothing else has, and you do need to witness it to fathom it.

Stewart is Love Lies Bleeding's shaggy mullet-wearing heartthrob, a surly and oft-silent type who knows what she wants and doesn't. In the first category for the gym-managing Lou: a life free of abuse for her sister Beth (Jena Malone, Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire), who has scuzzy and vicious husband JJ (Dave Franco, Day Shift) lurking about; nothing to do with the shooting range-owning, gun-running, insect-obsessed, ponytailed Lou Sr (the scene-stealing Ed Harris, Top Gun: Maverick); and, from when she first sets eyes on her, muscular and permed out-of-towner Jackie (Katy O'Brian, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). It's 1989, Lou is unwilling to be anyone but herself — iron-pumping patrons try and fail to insult her with "grade-a dyke" — and she's also introduced knowing how to clean up a mess and navigate amorous complications. Glass initially finds one of her protagonists with a hand deep in a backed-up toilet, and with local hang-about and past fling Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov, Dickinson) pleading for a date.

More muck and more relationship chaos are in store for both Lou and for Love Lies Bleeding. Breezing in en route to a bodybuilding championship in Las Vegas, Jackie reciprocates her affections, then moves into her house — but the day before they meet, she's sleeping with JJ for a job at Lou Sr's. That's just some of the shit, metaphorical rather than literal, that Lou will have to get more than elbow-deep in. The FBI agents hovering around asking questions fall into the same camp. Alongside gleefully subverting the usual take on powerful women characters on-screen, Glass carves into idyllic perceptions of love. Love Lies Bleeding's central romance is urgent, instant, sweaty and horny, and also opportunistic, perilous and thorny. The idea that discovering your special someone is transformative also receives a stunning spin, and far beyond the fact that bulging biceps and doing everything on steroids — sometimes literally there — are rarely far from returning Saint Maud cinematographer Ben Fordesman's lens.

It isn't merely Glass, Fordesman, editor Mark Towns (another Saint Maud alum), composer Clint Mansell (Sharper) and the meticulous team of sound designers who go all in on crafting Lou and Jackie's plight as an evocatively visceral and squelchy fever dream, heated sex scenes, an onslaught of gore and brutality, and an eagerness to get weird all included. Almost every time that she rolls out a new performance, Stewart is in never-better form again and again, which is true once more in this phenomenal portrayal. The anxiety, tension and vulnerability that's pulsating through Lou is evident in a look, a line reading and posture alone, as is determination, devotion, grit and complexity. Stewart masters something that's only matched by the electric O'Brian, as Glass demands: mesmerising viewers, and making them fall as head over heels for this chemistry-dripping pair and the movie they're in as they do with each other. For O'Brian, who also has The Mandalorian and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as Westworld and The Walking Dead on her resume, has studied martial arts since childhood, takes part in bodybuilding contests off-screen and was previously a cop, it's a star-making, can't-look-away turn.

Add obsession to the forces pumping ravenously through Love Lies Bleeding, which befits its filmmaker; this isn't her first picture about transformation and connection. The links between Saint Maud and Love Lies Bleeding mirror Lou and Jackie, with the two duos as much kindred spirits as opposites. Glass relishes the magnetic clash, then revels in it. What it truly means to change, and why, and the motivations to try; attempting to abandon old and forge new habits; what a person can and can't find in another; where faith and trust kick in: they all throb through both flicks. But jumping from a claustrophobic British setting to the expansive American west, plus from ailing bodies to musclebound figures, is also Glass' journey. Contrasts abound within Love Lies Bleeding itself, which is intimate but sprawling, raw and tender, sweet and savage, gets love and sex butting heads with carnage and death, grim but blackly comedic, and also dark and distressing yet swoonworthy and romantic.

In her two features so far — a helluva debut, then this astounding follow-up — Glass has also proven herself a builder, but not of the bodies that her second movie peers at with as female a gaze that cinema is capable of. There's no watching Love Lies Bleeding and not spying its influences, as was the case with Saint Maud. That said, that both take those inspirations as foundations to construct something else entirely is equally inescapable. These are no one's copies. True Romance, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, Thelma & Louise, Showgirls, Badlands, Paris, Texas, Raising Arizona, Bonnie & Clyde, Natural Born Killers: consider them all Love Lies Bleeding's siblings. So are Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, as spied in the intoxicating hues that dance across the screen. Although it similarly only reached cinemas in 2024, Ethan Coen's Drive-Away Dolls would make a glorious double with one of the standout movies of the year. For a burning, bulging, blistering and brilliant plunge into filmmaking at its most exhilarating, however, Love Lies Bleeding stands and shines fiercely atop its own cliff.

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