Love Lies Bleeding – Film Review

Rose Glass’ second feature film has been eagerly awaited after her compelling but unsettling acclaimed debut film, Saint Maud. Love Lies Bleeding certainly meets expectations as it stars Kristen Stewart, as never seen before, within this brooding, dark tale depicting love against the odds, a road trip, a criminal thriller and more to unveil a gritty, intoxicating mix.  Glass has truly not missed again, in refusing to conform, and provides a continuously gripping and exciting blend as well as eliciting outstanding performances from her actors!

Kristen Stewart is almost unrecognisable as Lou, a reclusive worker in a DIY gym, who appears disenfranchised with her lifestyle and seems to wish to fade in to the distance wearing non descript, oversized clothing to accentuate the point. Jackie, played by Katy M.O’Brian, bounds into her life as the polar opposite larger than life persona with aspirations to compete within a bodybuilding competition in Vegas and attracts people with her magnetism. Both women are drawn to each other, like a moth to a flame, with their complementary yin and yang needs, which satisfies an unquenchable void within their lives with unfortunate consequences.

Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding
Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding ultimately raises the question surrounding co-dependency, trauma bonding and intimacy as Lou and Jackie’s interaction is sometimes fraught with danger and the camera never fails to show, via close ups, the intense, visceral extent of their dynamic.  Furthermore, their union and their attempt to embark on a road trip to Vegas unleashes a controlling force leading to a dramatically destructive set of unforeseen events, which confronts an underground criminal network as they pit themselves against Lou’s family, in their bid to redeem themselves and assist others.

Underpinning Love Lies Bleeding is this sense of coercive control and  shadowy operations which provides a sinister edge throughout the film’s runtime. Glass equally leans in to these aspects by way of a heavy exploration of the theme of contrasts.  Jackie, as a bodybuilder, is part of a muscular, toxic, world typically occupied by men and therefore the film zooms in on the sweat filled gym activities and the ripped muscles pumping iron to create a sensuality scarcely observed within a female gaze. The critique of such 80s gym culture is there too, complete with mullet hairstyles, but viewed subtly as there is no exposition to this effect however, audiences can obtain the essence of the psychological control needed to maintain optimal bodies for competitions.

Glass permits the film to pause to analyse the facets of physical and mental strength, combined with sacrifice, required by bodybuilders such as Jackie to achieve their goals. O’Brian excellently portrays the single-minded focus needed and the determination to do whatever it takes to succeed. Yet, she also embodies an empathetic persona as she demonstrates a degree of vulnerability and naivety as Jackie in stark contrast to her muscular appearance.  However, 80s American culture encapsulated being as big, loud, strong and excessive as possible as capitalism roamed freely and large boom boxes were de rigueur, as seen in gym scenes with Jackie. Whilst Jackie is a ‘natty’ and has developed her muscles without any substance abuse, her ambition to enter the bodybuilding competition changes this approach and she is inevitably drawn in to the seedier elements of the sport. Other films might present similar messages about toxic gym culture, but Glass presents a refreshing perspective from the perception of a woman navigating her way through an intimidating space. 

Love Lies Bleeding, however, is not a sports film and neither is it a simple love story. Instead, Glass fuses genres and permits the camera to revel in the darker recesses and monstrosities of humanity with complex characters showcasing a grainy, shadowy, aspect ratio which pervades the film and creates tension alongside highlighting a degree of depravity. The film aches as it exposes the yearning, loneliness and raw, visceral emotion expressed by its characters who display different versions of love which they continuously associate with manipulation and controlling behaviour.  It is never clear exactly who the good and negative characters are as there are several unlikeable characters and their actions are nuanced.  Yet, Glass has re-imagined these settings to provide an insightful exposure to persons such as Lou and Jackie, marginalised by society, trying to find their place, their identity and to escape the trappings of their past. Love Lies Bleedings is not a film for the faint-hearted as it refuses to glamorise the scenarios and revels in the violence caused by Lou and Jackie’s union.

Katy M.O'Brien in Love Lies Bleeding
Katy M.O’Brien in Love Lies Bleeding

There may be inevitable comparisons to Thelma and Louise in this sense and indeed homages ranging from Quentin Tarantino films to French police thrillers and Tales of the Unexpected can be seen. Yet, there is also a slightly supernatural horrific feel, due to some red hued scenes, omnipresent villains and the insatiable, destructive desires lusting for blood. The film’s title also hints at the pain-pleasure threshold for love.

Glass has thus created a no holds barred multi genre tale, this may be a queer love story but Love Lies Bleeding eschews limitations by embracing other elements such as desire, power, control and ambition. Still, the film seems to enjoy those moments where it ventures in to fantasy, which inject a degree of humour within an otherwise dark tale.

It is best to watch Love Lies Bleeding with no pre-conceived expectations to be fully immersed within Lou’s twisted world, with seemingly no future, as she seeks to escape loneliness. Audiences will undoubtedly marvel at Stewart’s performance, who holds her own against greats such as Ed Harris. Love Lies Bleeding is a fast paced, engaging, moody, anxiety inducing watch, with fantastic chemistry between Stewart and O’Brian, that will leave viewers awestruck with its sheer brutality and audaciousness.  One thing remains undisputed –  Glass has carved out her own identity as a risk taking female filmmaker and it will be exciting to see the direction that her future films follow!

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