Love Lies Bleeding Review

Love Lies Bleeding
Gym manager Lou (Stewart) falls fast and hard for bodybuilder Jackie (O’Brian). But violent forces threaten to tear them apart.

by Laura Venning |
Published on
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Love Lies Bleeding

Blood, sweat, vomit and saliva — this film is all about the body, what lurks within it, and what physical extremes we’ll push ourselves to for lust, love and freedom. The presence of all these fluids will come as no surprise to those who saw writer and director Rose Glass’ debut, Saint Maud, which memorably features its protagonist impaling her own feet with nails. Love Lies Bleeding, a title borrowed from a type of blood-red flower, proves that Glass is definitely not a filmmaker for the faint of heart, but this time the extremity is anchored in a swoon-worthy queer romance.

Love Lies Bleeding

1989, New Mexico. Lonely gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) spends her free time masturbating and listening to cassette tapes on quitting smoking. The only thing keeping her in this small town is her sister Beth (Jena Malone), who is frequently beaten by her spineless husband JJ (Dave Franco). Everything changes when Jackie (Katy O’Brian) saunters into the gym: a square-jawed, leotard-wearing goddess heading to Vegas for a bodybuilding championship.

When it’s not purely thrilling and darkly funny, it’s also just so wonderfully gay.

From the outset, the film playfully subverts hyper-masculine tropes, and has zero interest in either placating or titillating straight audiences. The camera takes on Lou’s view as she admires Jackie’s body while she pumps iron and injects herself with steroids, revelling in an unabashedly queer female beauty. Their sex scenes are sensual but never voyeuristic, and the two leads have scorching chemistry. O’Brian, a real-life former bodybuilder, is luminous as Jackie, while Stewart seems born to play this taciturn but tender-hearted lesbian trying to leave her dark past behind.

Love Lies Bleeding

Glass also takes obvious pleasure in the Americana of it all, whether through a sunrise over a desert highway, the oiled-up artificiality of bodybuilding, or the completely disembodied brutality of the gun range owned by Lou’s estranged crime boss father. Lou Senior, played by a menacing Ed Harris with eye-popping hair extensions, is a deliciously nasty villain, taunting his daughter to confront the capacity for violence he knows is within her.

There’s no question that this film is a bit messy, veering from noir to revenge thriller to body horror to pitch-black comedy via moments of magic realism. But there’s never a dull moment; Love Lies Bleeding pulses with an irresistible energy and potent eroticism. When it’s not purely thrilling and darkly funny, it’s also just so wonderfully gay. Kristen Stewart with a mullet reading a book called ‘Macho Sluts’ might just be the representation queer women have been waiting for.

Visceral and heady, this is a blood-soaked, all-American fable that’s as if Thelma And Louise literally went on steroids. Rose Glass is a force to be reckoned with.
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