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Love Lies Bleeding ★★★★



Released: 3rd May 2024 (UK)

Director: Rose Glass

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Jena Malone, Ed Harris

Review By: Will Rowan

How do you follow up on a cult classic? In Love Lies Bleeding, Rose Glass offers a blueprint, completely shifting gears from her debut, Saint Maud, to a tale of muscle and murder set in the 1980s American West. In doing so, we’re treated to the best trip to the gym you’ll take this year.

We follow Lou (Kristen Stewart), a gym manager in a small, dusty town, who becomes entangled with Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a bodybuilder passing through on her way to compete in Las Vegas. From first glance, Jackie and Lou became locked into the gravity of each other’s situations. However, there are other magnetic forces knocking around town. Lou’s father, Lou Sr (Ed Harris), a certified gun freak and leader of the local crime syndicate, is an early premonition of the dangers for burgeoning romance in this world. In this setting, their love ignites with the intensity of a desert fire, tearing through New Mexico.

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian deliver compelling performances, playing off each other with immediate chemistry. In this narrative, queer attraction is portrayed as straightforward, honest, and as integral to the town’s fabric as the ravines that run through it. O’Brian embodies all-American muscle with an emotional core just as strong, fiercely protective of Lou while unwavering in her higher calling to Las Vegas. Through Lou’s gaze, Jackie emerges as a tower of strength, a lighthouse amongst the sea of local dudes crashing around town. It’s not long before Jackie uses her physicality to reshape both their realities. Love Lies Bleeding posits that love is a tool equally deadly in both the right and wrong hands. 

Circling on the periphery of their relationship is the wonderful Beth (Jena Malone), giving a small but standout performance. She’s obsessed with Lou and her sickly sweet fawning will put you off your popcorn. Characters here are messy, complicated, and completely unbothered by anything outside their shared gaze. Ed Harris sports a frankly ridiculous hairpiece that unfailingly receives laughter even when viewed down the barrel of a gun. Treading between comedy and danger, Love Lies Bleeding quickly moves to a mystical place that floats above the mundanities of small-town America like a warning. It’s in this altered reality that Glass feels most comfortable.

The pitch shifts with the repeated introduction of steroids from Lou to Jackie. Each shot causes Jackie’s muscles to flex and contort, running the whole world around her body; one part is body horror and the other part is pure fascination. Every hit feels like a psychedelic for the audience, injecting new fear and uncertainty. The grim nature of everyday realities and the supernatural larger-than-life idea of Las Vegas become twisted. Love continues and the dead pile up. Seeing how they can find a way out, both as lovers and individuals, offers our only hope that love can be a form of salvation. It’s Lou and Jackie against the locals, the town, and maybe the world.

However, as the bodies pile up, Love Lies Bleeding becomes a victim of its trail of destruction. We descend into a wild goose chase that substitutes the heavy-hitting thrills of doomed love for the cheap thrills of self-interested crime syndicate dealings. This move to a more conventional crime narrative feels like a misstep, putting character development on hold and leaving us yearning for the film’s earlier scenes.

Love Lies Bleeding is a fun romp through the American wasteland – part muscle movie, part thriller, and fully engaging. Though messy and chaotic, not always in ways you would want, it’s well worth taking the ticket to ride.

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