Review: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’

Kristen Stewart And Katy O'Brian Thrill In Rose Glass's Intense Queer Bodybuilding Crime Romance

*NOTE: This review was originally part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage.*

The instant Jackie (Katy O’Brian) hitchhikes into the dusty southwestern town at the center of Rose Glass’s audacious, sexy, queer crime-thriller Love Lies Bleeding, all eyes are on her. And it’s easy to see why. A bodybuilder with rippling pecs, a smile to die for, and a take-no-shit attitude, Jackie is the kind of person who sweeps into a place and turns it upside down. For Lou (Kristen Stewart), who works a humiliating job at the local gym, one with a perpetually clogged-up toilet she fixes by hand, Jackie is the most interesting thing to happen there in ages. And Lou desperately needs something good to happen in her life.

Glass, who became an instant fan-favorite with her breakout film, Saint Maud, is so skilled at capturing a specific kind of mood without beating you over the head. Set in 1989 when greed was considered an honorable trait and anti-drug messages were everywhere, everyone is looking out for #1. You can see it in the inspirational messages on the gym wall, “Only Losers Quit”, “Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body”, “No Pain No Gain”. There’s a thread of mania running through these gym rats and the town itself, and Jackie fits right in.

When Jackie and Lou meet, the sparks are instant, but so too is the obsession. It would be almost unbelievable if not for the legit physical chemistry of their smoldering sexual encounters. Glass is unafraid to show two impassioned women giving themselves utterly to the other, body and soul.

In the case of the former, the body becomes a vehicle for the film’s wild swings in tone and genre. At times a gory body horror, superhero movie, mob film, and Bonnie ‘n Clyde crime thriller, Love Lies Bleeding is a roller coaster that you have to fully invest in and invest in early. Especially since neither Lou or Jackie is someone you can easily cheer on, as revelations reveal the true depths of their tortured pasts, and how they inform some of the indefensible actions they take later. With Jackie focused on an upcoming bodybuilding competition in Vegas, Lou gladly peddles steroids which she injects into her new lover. Hey, it was the ’80s and everyone was on ‘roids. These injections cause the already-massive Jackie’s body to swell, veins popping, muscles peaking superhumanly.

But this also runs counter to aspects of Lou’s character that are truly honorable. We learn that she is estranged from her father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), a Nevada crime kingpin with a bug obsession and a horrendous bald-ponytail combo that would have anyone running in the opposite direction. We learn, through searing red flashbacks, that Lou was once an enthusiastic sidekick to his criminal activities. Now she stays in town largely to protect her sister Beth (Jena Malone, always amazing), a battered wife at the hands of her douchey husband JJ (Dave Franco, sporting a heinous mullet), who also knows a thing or two about Jackie that Lou might not like. With the FBI snooping around, and Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), an overly aggressive former fling that Lou has been trying to avoid, the situation grows messy very quickly.

A combination of factors, such as roid rage and nicotine withdrawal, heighten Jackie and Lou’s uncontrollable love affair. They say that love is blind, but these two make bad decision-making an art form. And it’s these choices, driven by carnal obsession, that send Love Lies Bleeding into unpredictable genre territory. No longer just a doomed lovers story, grisly violence sends the film spinning into thriller territory, and there are other unhinged aspects introduced as Glass and co-writer Weronika Tofilska repeatedly turn the tables.

And while the film occasionally gets so bizarre that we lose a sense of who these characters are, it is impossible to look away from.  Although I must say it’s a bit awkward to have another Sundance movie, following last year’s Magazine Dreams, about a ‘roided up bodybuilder with a violent streak. O’Brian’s raw, kinetic performance as Jackie, a time bomb waiting to explode if there ever was one, is in perfect contrast to the steely and vulnerable Stewart, whose Lou is the real driver of much of the action. She’s also the vehicle for much of Glass’ dark sense of humor, seen every time Lou is left to clean up in Jackie’s savage wake.

Love Lies Bleeding is a big-swing type of movie, and Glass is a filmmaker with a bold, uncompromising vision. This lovers-on-the-lam movie goes to some crazy, freakish places and it doesn’t always make sense. At times gritty and surreal, this story of twisted love is going to inspire a legion of ride-or-die fans, and anyone else better get out of its way.

A24 will release Love Lies Bleeding into theaters on March 15th.


Love Lies Bleeding
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-love-lies-bleeding*NOTE: This review was originally part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage.* The instant Jackie (Katy O’Brian) hitchhikes into the dusty southwestern town at the center of Rose Glass’s audacious, sexy, queer crime-thriller Love Lies Bleeding, all eyes are on her. And it’s easy to see...