Love Lies Bleeding is an intense, queer, unconventional love story between two unstable people. Directed and written by Rose Glass and Weronika Tofilska, and stars Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone and Anna Baryshinkov. The film explores the destructive nature of relationships, marked by strong performances and a visually arresting narrative.
Lou (Stewart) meets Jackie (O’Brian) at the gym her father owns and is instantly smitten. Jackie is charming, looks great, and isn’t afraid to confront a man that gets in her space. This is something Lou witnesses first-hand, as Jackie whacks one of the gym patrons in the face when he gets a little too friendly. After their sex-filled rendezvous (yes, they moved that fast), Lou discovers her new girlfriend works at her father Lou Sr.’s (Harris) gun range.
More from Deadline
Needing a place to stay, Jackie asks if she could stay with Lou until she makes enough money to move on to a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. The aspiring body builder discovers her new lover’s family is a broken one. Lou Sr. is the town’s most feared man, while Lou’s brother-in-law, JJ (Franco), and Lou’s sister Beth (Malone) have a marriage so volatile that it becomes the film’s reasoning for why all hell breaks loose.
Filmed amidst the quintessential landscapes of New Mexico, a location that epitomizes the essence of Americana, the film employs the unseen to create an atmosphere rich in suspense. The story offers only fleeting insights into Lou’s history, presenting these revelations as breadcrumbs that infuse the narrative with intrigue and mystery.
This approach is characteristic of Glass’ directorial style, which weaves elements of sporadic horror, creating a sense of unpredictability. The culmination of this technique is a moment of absolute carnage, captured in a rare, stationary shot that contrasts with the film’s otherwise dynamic visual tempo.
When comparing Love Lies Bleeding to Saint Maud, there are similar themes explored here. Jackie is very much like Maud—a woman who lives on the fringes of society, and, is an unreliable narrator obsessed with achieving something far out of reach. Both narratives delve into the theme of extreme devotion, examining how it can consume an individual and propel them towards something undeniably harmful.
However, a key distinction in Love Lies Bleeding is the portrayal of every character as unreliable and unhinged, differing from the more focused perspective in Saint Maud.
With a gritty and rustic aesthetic reminiscent of a neo-western, the film also embraces an ’80s vibe akin to Paul Nicholas’ Chained Heat, yet it steers clear of exploitation. The way the camera captures Jackie is striking, focusing on the stages of her physical transformation and molding this into a visual arc that showcases Jackie’s beauty, her body horror and how she grows into her higher-self.
The directors employ a unique lens to showcase Jackie’s muscular development, offering an intimate and detailed view rarely seen for actresses in Hollywood films. This approach feels like a breath of fresh air, as the director revels in portraying a woman’s strength and physicality in a way that is bold and innovative.
Stewart and O’Brian are electric as the toxic, uhaul duo of star-crossed psychos in love. Stewart, having tackled a diverse array of roles, demonstrates her expansive range, leaving no doubt about her acting ability. O’Brian shines as an emerging talent, an actress who embraces and confidently portrays her full authentic self on screen.
In Love Lies Bleeding, Glass takes a snapshot of America. Saturated with guns, marked by bloodshed and characterized by lawlessness. However, when you add in some sexy, campy queers sprinkled in for razzle dazzle, you get a film like this full of thrills and captivating energy.
Title: Love Lies Bleeding
Festival (Section): Sundance (Midnight)
Director-screenwriter: Rose Glass
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshinkov
Running time: 1 hr 44 mins
Best of Deadline