‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is Brutal and Bizarre but Boundary Pushing Pulp (Review)

by | Mar 15, 2024

A bodybuilder and a gym manager fall in love and into a violent web of crime in the new film from director Rose Glass.

In the ongoing push for more female directors in the film industry, one such filmmaker is Rose Glass, who debuted with her first feature Saint Maud through A24 to a positive response only marred by a lack of theatrical release as it came out in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Thankfully, her second feature Love Lies Bleeding is poised for a wide release, and it deserves just that as well as potential for cult status in the future, because despite going off the rails in its second half, the film does succeed as a solid 80s throwback through Glass’ poised direction and well-realized characters, who are brought to life with the brilliance of her two lead actresses. 

Taking place in 1989, Love Lies Bleeding follows Lou (Kristen Stewart), a lesbian gym manager harboring an estranged relationship with her father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), is often visited by the FBI who ask of her disappeared mother’s whereabouts despite her lack of information, and carries a dedication to helping her sister Beth (Jena Malone) out with her children as she is in an abusive marriage with her husband JJ (Dave Franco). Meanwhile, Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is a female bodybuilder hitchhiking her way to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition when she comes to meet Lou after one night training at her gym. 

The two women are quick to fall for one another, and Lou agrees to let Jackie stay at her place, and even offers her the steroids she’s been taking to help her bulk up. But after one night, they learn JJ has beaten Beth into hospitalization, which along with the effects of the steroids awakens a fury within Jackie that sends herself and Lou into the ominous web of her father’s criminal empire. The results of Jackie’s rash decision making also thrust Lou onto an irreversible path to confronting Lou Sr. and getting herself out from under his dark shadow.

Lou and Jackie are very well-realized characters in the solid script Rose Glass has crafted for Love Lies Bleeding. The two lovers have an interesting dynamic; Lou is reclusive and not willing to fight in the face of danger, instead preferring to clean up the mess it leaves behind. Conversely, the muscles of Jackie’s sculpted body are representative of her self-reliance, conveyed in an early conversation with Lou where the bodybuilder admits she chose her profession as a means of “exploring her own strength.” 

The script of Love Lies Bleeding also does a great job of giving both women interesting quirks; Lou begins the film a chainsmoker and drug user, and there’s also a brief instance of her chewing on a small piece of metal not caring how dangerous it is, while Jackie’s muscles seem to shift and morph in the film’s steamiest moments as a visual representation of the passion she has for loved ones such as Lou.

On that note, Glass continues her stride as a female director to watch through her remarkable ability of creating intimacy, from how hot and heavy the scenes of raw sex go between Lou and Jackie, to the affecting warmth that proliferates their breakfast the next morning. But Glass doesn’t just make a case for women’s strength being their natural empathy in Love Lies Bleeding; she is also a boisterous boundary pusher unafraid to show the disgusting details of her characters’ lives. 

Lou is introduced unclogging a filthy toilet in her gym with her own (thankfully) gloved hands, and Jackie gets into fights that end in gruesome results. To that end, Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian are great as the two main characters, with the latter showing incredible intensity when Jackie faces confrontation, while Stewart showcases Lou’s vulnerability and hesitance to let others in when she confides in Jackie a story about her sister’s marriage via realistic restraint.

There’s a lot of good about Love Lies Bleeding, but there are some off-putting elements as well; while the film succeeds in replicating the sound and era of life in rural Texas circa 1989, for a film as raw, dirty and gory as this, Glass’ sophomore feature would have benefitted from a dirtier aesthetic in the form of a more filmic look on its images. It’s also worth noting that the route Glass takes to peel back the layers of Jackie’s character tonally sticks out like a sore thumb, from the psychedelic high she experiences while on Lou’s steroids to the bizarre payoff of her excessive performance enhancer binge in the film’s bonkers climax.

But an overzealous use of storytelling motifs and symbolism is a hallmark of pulp cinema from the 80s that Glass’s latest emulates, and her combined talents of crafting well-rounded characters and creating tension to build it to a fever pitch makes Love Lies Bleeding a solid second directorial effort. Audiences will vibe with the Clint Mansell score that replicates the era’s electronic sound, want to see Lou and Jackie escape their predicament the more brutal it gets, and be shocked and awed into stupefaction over the film’s conclusion. It’s a wakeup call to audiences about their inner strength, and that’s why Love Lies Bleeding is a film worth seeing.

RATING: ★★★★

(out of five stars)