‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Is a Visceral, Addictive Adrenaline Rush

John Maescher ‘27 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Katy O’Brian (left) and Kristen Stewart (right) in Love Lies Bleeding. Image courtesy of A24.

There are few contemporary performers as exciting and adventurous as Kristen Stewart, who has a gift for fully committing to every character she plays no matter the film, and provides a certain kind of restless energy that’s wholly unique among her peers. Her intense, commanding presence is the kind of thing that defines a true star, imbuing her performances with fascinating tics and grace notes that are impossible to draw your eyes away from. She has found a perfect vehicle for her talents in Rose Glass’ sophomore feature Love Lies Bleeding, a delightfully pulpy and utterly exhilarating neo-noir charged with raw, propulsive energy from minute one. 

Here, Stewart plays Lou, a small-town gym manager in late-1980s New Mexico who spends her days unclogging toilets and wasting away the hours of her shifts. One day, a gorgeous stranger named Jackie (Katy O’Brian) walks into the gym, immediately stopping Lou in her tracks. The moment of Jackie’s introduction is the stuff of movie magic, instantly establishing the passion and fervor of the film. Right from Lou and Jackie’s first interactions, Glass’ filmmaking has an emphasis on physicality; Lou sucker-punches a homophobe in the face after he harasses the two of them outside the gym, and moments later, Lou is injecting Jackie with steroids for her bodybuilding. During the first time they sleep together, Jackie’s arm veins and biceps are shown dramatically bulging, the first instance of a recurring image of vaguely supernatural transformation that goes on to manifest in some truly surprising ways. As Lou and Jackie’s relationship heats up, so does the story. Jackie takes a job at a gun range owned by an arms dealer (Ed Harris) who just so happens to be Lou’s father, and as Jackie inserts herself into Lou’s messy and complicated family situation, events soon take a turn for the shockingly violent. 

Love Lies Bleeding feels indebted to a long line of cinematic influences and a lineage of the noir genre; its premise of a drifter wandering into a small town and placing themselves into increasingly twisty and violent circumstances is a classic noir setup. The film it most closely resembles is Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s sapphic neo-noir classic Bound, but we can also think of Blood Simple, Thelma & Louise, and Wild at Heart, with a dash of David Cronenberg’s fixation on bodily transformation. However, Glass throws all these influences into a blender to create a unique concoction all her own, one jacked up on pure adrenaline and testosterone. The film isn’t afraid to lean into high pulp as it gets more wildly unpredictable with each narrative turn; the second half makes choices that will understandably cause a divided response, but represent the kind of wild, go-for-broke swings for the fences that more movies would be wise to have the confidence to pull off in the way Glass does here. 

As mentioned before, Stewart is endlessly captivating in her jumpy, anxious paranoia and restlessness, and O’Brian, a relative newcomer, is a major revelation in her muscular, commanding presence. Harris, long one of our finest character actors, is a total blast to watch as a menacing, bug-eating (literally) villain with a gloriously absurd hairpiece. Other performers, like Dave Franco as a sleazy, mulleted dirtbag, or Anna Baryshnikov as a hilariously spaced-out ex-love interest of Lou’s, bring even more to the tapestry of the film. Above all, Love Lies Bleeding is a simply electrifying experience to watch. For as much as Glass plays with elements of magical realism and hyperstylization, the film’s greatest thrill is watching how it stays rooted in the more conventionally satisfying pleasures of a lean, mean, grimy, no-frills crime thriller while also establishing its own distinct style of romantic, roided-out fever dream. It’s a visceral, addictive, fiercely entertaining adrenaline rush of a film. 

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