Tuesday, February 27, 2024

“LOVE LIES BLEEDING”

THE STORY – Reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Las Vegas in pursuit of her dream. But their love ignites violence, pulling them deep into the web of Lou’s criminal family.

THE CAST – Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone & Anna Baryshnikov

THE TEAM – Rose Glass (Director/Writer) & Weronika Tofilska (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes


With her debut film “Saint Maud,” writer-director Rose Glass blasted to the forefront of film lovers’ awareness. That religious nightmare of a film showed that she can craft singular images that will stick with audiences long after the credits roll. Now, she’s back with her follow-up “Love Lies Bleeding,” co-written by Weronika Tofilska. And just like “Saint Maud,” Glass’s newest film is a trippy, over-the-top look into the edges of the human soul and our ability to carry out the most unexpected actions to perpetuate our continued existence.

“Love Lies Bleeding” centers on two women – Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian) – who find themselves brought together through unexpected circumstances. Lou manages a gym in a 1980s border state (Texas, perhaps?), and Jackie has seemingly given up all Earthly possessions, including a permanent living situation, to make it to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition. Upon meeting, a spark is immediately ignited, and Jackie quickly moves into Lou’s rundown apartment. But Lou’s complicated family life soon gets in the way of their potential happiness – her father (Ed Harris) is an unhinged criminal, and her sister (Jena Malone) has been psychologically manipulated into being totally dependent on her abusive husband (Dave Franco). It’s not long before violence follows, making the emotional turbulence that runs through her family external and very real.

Besides the apparent outliers, the plot, like having a lesbian couple leading the story, is unremarkable. But even the film seems to know that the narrative is subservient to the imagery, performances, and general energy, all of which make the film into something beyond remarkable. Still, despite the flashes of abstract visuals, the general story of criminality is rather prosaic. However, the film is much more than its story; it’s intent on making audiences root for the unlikely pair of anti-heroes just trying to make their dreams come true and find truth and purpose in their bond.

Stewart further proves she’s one of our most incredible modern talents with her fully lived-in performance. She’s created an entire being, thanks in no small part to the script’s strong character writing. Lou is tough on the outside, using her hardened shell to repel any outside threats after a childhood filled with violence. And Stewart can play “don’t talk to me” with ease. Her best moments come when her character and the audience experience surprise. She’s simply the best in the business at tossed-off lines and unexpected reactions. One moment involving a shocking headshot gives her the chance to have an incredible, sputtering, semi-apologetic response that is both hilarious and real.

O’Brian is a worthy screen companion for Stewart, creating a totally original character in the brittle yet vulnerable Jackie. She has simple needs and desires, and the world seems bent on not letting her achieve them. Thanks to O’Brian’s abilities, she’s impossible not to sympathize with. It also can’t be understated what an incredible physical performance she gives, delivering her bodybuilding routine with impressive dexterity and believable power.

The rest of the ensemble totally fits into the grimy, uncompromising world that Rose Glass creates. Ed Harris is terrifying, managing to remain consistently intimidating despite sporting the silliest of hairdos. Jena Malone is beyond pitiable as the damaged housewife Beth, and anyone watching will want to punch her husband in the face, thanks to Dave Franco’s appropriately unlikeable performance. Anna Baryshnikov excellently plays Daisy, a young woman who won’t leave Lou alone, and even though she’s undeniably annoying, it’s easy to feel sorry for her and her unreciprocated affections.

Glass creates a brutal landscape for her characters to roam and fight their way through. It’s filled with exaggerated Americana and larger-than-life figures and situations, all of which make the characters’ outsized emotions and reactions feel totally appropriate. The cinematography captures this dusty, dirty world with bursts of dynamic lighting, making it feel like we’re watching a film set in an overly lit reptile exhibit. Clint Mansell’s dark score puts the audience in the characters’ headspace as a perfect complement to the visuals. And anyone who’s seen “Saint Maud” won’t be too shocked to hear that Glass isn’t afraid to fill her movie with increasingly absurd imagery, taking the characters’ most unrealistic thoughts and feelings and making them frighteningly, improbably real.

“Love Lies Bleeding” tells a revenge story we’ve seen before, filled with details and specifications we haven’t. “Empowering” may feel like a trite word to describe a lesbian love story, but Lou and Jackie are the kind of couple fighting through hard times that are just begging to be made into folk heroes. It’s a gnarly tale of the underworld given fresh life thanks to the committed cast and visionary filmmaker guiding them.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The committed cast, led by an excellent-as-always Kristen Stewart and impressively physical Katy O'Brian, lead a grimy, perversely enjoyable revenge fantasy filled with wonderfully absurd imagery and exaggerated situations.

THE BAD - The plot is rather unremarkable, with the talents of the cast and the film's general energy helping to make it entertaining.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The committed cast, led by an excellent-as-always Kristen Stewart and impressively physical Katy O'Brian, lead a grimy, perversely enjoyable revenge fantasy filled with wonderfully absurd imagery and exaggerated situations.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The plot is rather unremarkable, with the talents of the cast and the film's general energy helping to make it entertaining.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"LOVE LIES BLEEDING"