One woman sitting on top of a vehicle while the other stands leaning against it.

Film Review: Love Lies Bleeding


Love Lies Bleeding
Director: Rose Glass

Escape Plan Productions and Lobo Films
In Theaters 03.08

Whether you’re making good pulp cinema or bad pulp cinema, the key is to pile on enough sordid sensationalism that it’s too morbidly fascinating to turn away from, much like a car crash or a primary election. Love Lies Bleeding is an intriguing film that doesn’t always work, yet it’s almost always mesmerizing.

In a small town in the late ‘80s, the antisocial Lou (Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper, Spencer) works at a rundown gym called Crater’s, where cleaning clogged toilets still beats interacting with the customers. This dismal existence is interrupted when the tall, dark and muscle-bound Jackie (Katy O’Brian, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) struts through the door. A steamy romance ignites literally overnight, and by the next morning, Jackie is living at Lou’s apartment. The two women are united by passion, despite differing priorities in life: Jackie dreams of fame as a competitive bodybuilder, while Lou simply seeks to forget the nightmare of her upbringing with her father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris, Apollo 13, The Truman Show), and to keep her sister Beth (Jena Malone, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) safe from her abusive and mulleted husband JJ (Dave Franco, The Disaster Artist). The happiness that Lou finds is brief, and both worlds begin to collide as she discovers that Jackie is working at her father’s firing range, which is merely a front for illicit ventures. What’s more, Jackie’s behavior becomes more erratic as she gets hooked on steroids. The darkest elements of Lou’s life are on a collision course that will destroy her unless she steps up and takes control of the situation, whatever the costs may be.

Writer-director Rose Glass (Saint Maud) isn’t going for subtlety here, and Love Lies Bleeding is brash, in-your-face filmmaking that comes with just enough reality to get you hooked and enough trashy zaniness to keep audiences engaged until the end, at which point you may find yourself asking, “Why on earth did I watch that?” The answer is that the central characters are captivating, and when the film focuses on their budding romance, it’s quite appealing. The question of whether this is a true and lasting love or merely a fling born out of loneliness, desperation and physical attraction is enigmatic and engaging. As such, the diversion into toxic family dynamics, lurid-yet-ague crime drama and shocking violence is at least as intrusive as it is scintillating. The line between reality and surreal fantasy, with Lou’s nightmares and Jackie’s roided-up hallucinations pushing themselves to the forefront, slowly becomes blurrier. Some of these oddities work and some do not; it’s unfortunate that Jackie is too often treated as something of an oddity herself. By the time the frequent visual references to the TV version of The Incredible Hulk segue into an homage to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, it all starts to feel more than a bit like self-parody.

Stewart makes a great sad, underdog protagonist, and the character of Lou fits her like a glove. The film works as well as it does largely because she’s in the driver’s seat—even when she’s making bad choices, it’s hard not to root for Lou to come out on top. O’Brien is a charismatic and unique presence, and it’s a shame that the rather thin writing of her character can’t match the power and brawn of the dynamic actress portraying her. Harris is always a welcome presence, but Glass does her best to undermine it. Sporting long hair that goes down past his shoulders but stops well before his scalp, which is usually covered by a cowboy hat, Lou Sr. is a flamboyantly silly, one-note villain who literally eats bugs when he’s angry. While it’s a testament to Harris that his performance almost makes the character work, “almost” is the key word here. Malone and Franco forego big eating and merely chew the scenery as often as possible, and the divinely talented Anna Baryshnikov (Manchester By The Sea, Dickinson) plays her pathetic and obnoxious character so well that those who haven’t seen her in anything else may not even realize that she’s acting.

Love Lies Bleeding is too interesting to dismiss and too maddeningly uneven—and at times, quite unpleasant—to fully embrace. It’s likely to gain a strong cult following, and there’s no denying that this is really going to play strongly for some people. Still, I would have preferred more emphasis on substance and less on “weird for the sake of weird,” and while it’s a stylishly executed film, it’s a bit too lacking in meaningful substance for me. Patrick Gibbs

Read more from SLUG Film Writer Patrick Gibbs here:
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