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Review: Love Lies Bleeding

Writer-director Rose Glass is proving herself to be one of the most exciting and vibrant voices in genre filmmaking. After flipping the conventions of horror in Saint Maud, she sets her sights on the erotic crime thrillers of the 1980s with Love Lies Bleeding. With her sophomore effort she brings forth a spirited and guttural examination of the ugliest, rawest, and most beautiful parts of feminine desire. Its devilishly campy take on a lesbian romance is destined for cult status, delivering a mesmerizing cast, killer synth soundtrack by Chris Mansell, and some of the goriest kills this side of David Cronenberg.

Set in an almost mythic 1989, amidst the neon-drenched deserts of New Mexico, Love Lies Bleeding opens on Lou (Kristen Stewart), a gym manager who’s always stuck cleaning someone else’s mess. Lou feels trapped in her humdrum town, where her life revolves around protecting her sister Beth (Jenna Malone) from her abusive husband JJ (Dave Franco), and avoiding a lovelorn fling with Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov). To make matters worse, she’s finds herself a key piece in an FBI Investigation targeting her estranged king-pin father (Ed Harris). He’s part of a past life she claims to have distanced herself from.

The arrival of Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a drifting bodybuilder vying to make it big at a Las Vegas competition, signals the start of a new chapter in Lou’s life. After a night of sex and steroids, the two become inextricably linked to each other. Their scintillating, almost intoxicating romance is arguably the film’s greatest element, often placing us on a knife’s edge between pleasure and pain. In many ways they’re emblematic of Hollywood’s greatest (and most dangerous) couples, exuding raw passion with each gaze, embrace, and spirited argument. Through its sheer carnality, their romance becomes a progressive treatise on female desire itself, finding power in the grime and scuzz.

Yet, their dreamlike affair turns bitter when Jackie commits a brutal crime of passion, trapping the two in a downward spiral of violence and substance abuse they struggle to escape. The more they try to wriggle out of their bind, the more they are forced to confront their dark pasts.

Love Lies Bleeding. Credit: VVS FILMS

O’Brian cements herself as a star in the making, relishing a performance of rare physicality and vulnerability. Her buffed-out figure is home to a vein-popping, blood-churning transformation, capturing a character so unhinged it becomes impossible to look away—even in the most uncomfortable and disturbing of moments. Yet, despite how deranged her character becomes, O’Brian never forgets to imbue her with a human edge.

A never-better Stewart embodies both the femme and the fatale of Love Lies Bleeding, breathing life into a character who is as strong as she is flawed. Her take on Lou manifests as a stirring critique of “strong female characters”, where her shortcomings and missteps become her most admirable and triumphant qualities. In embracing her imperfections, Stewart lays bare a new, daring approach to femininity. Ed Harris also shines in a wild, imposing turn as the film’s chief antagonist, chewing the scenery—and a bug at one point— as a man desperately clinging to his rotting criminal empire.

Glass shoots Love Lies Bleeding with a distinctive eye, armed with a visual dexterity that mirrors the heart and brutality of its surreal world. Coupled with its abrasive editing, often drenching certain sequences in a nightmarish neon red, the film begins to emulate the very high of its protagonists’ lurid headspace. Love Lies Bleeding injects itself into us like the very steroids Lou and Jackie use, coursing through our veins and compelling us to hallucinate along with them. An effect that can become a bit too dizzying as it glides towards its cataclysmic conclusion.

Love Lies Bleeding takes wild swings that don’t always land, but when they do, Glass’ second outing fires on all cylinders—like a roaring transgressive machine. An especially bizarre climax may jump the shark for some viewers, it never betrays its sincere and campy heart. This commitment to such carnal oddity is key to its ravishing power, giving us the type of doomed romance that is rarely, if ever, matched.

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