British director Rose Glass understands what makes for a compelling psychological thriller. She debuted her first feature film, “Saint Maud,” in 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, and now her sophomore effort, “Love Lies Bleeding,” is a fantastic companion piece that is sure to turn heads. Glass introduced her newest movie to a roaring crowd at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, leaving a trail of blood, sweat and even some cheers.
“Love Lies Bleeding” stars Kristen Stewart, fresh from a separate run at Sundance with the bold science-fiction romance, “Love Me.” In Glass’s 1980s-set epic, Stewart embodies ever-frantic gym manager Lou, a forever desert dweller longing for more in her life than simply cleaning toilets and helping the muscular men in the gym achieve their full potential. This gym is the kind of facility with signs on the walls begging its clients to understand that “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Lou is looking for love in all the wrong places, including having an on-again-off-again fling with fellow gym rat Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov).
In walks Jackie, played with gusto by Katy O’Brian. A seductive drifter with a steroid addiction who dreams of winning the U.S. Female Body Building Championships in Las Vegas. Lou and Jackie begin a relationship, although the mysterious Jackie has a secretive past and has already had a sexual run-in with Lou’s abusive mullet-clad brother-in-law, J.J. (Dave Franco). Family drama soon follows, including confrontations with gun-toting Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), the younger Lou’s maniacal criminal father who practically owns half the town.
It’s at this point that Glass’s starry-eyed direction shifts into full throttle mode, as Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is sent to the hospital with unbelievable bruises at the hands of J.J. Upon seeing what J.J.’s temper can accomplish, Jackie activates beast mode to deadly results.
From here on out, a gory “Bonnie and Clyde” premise ensues, seeing many bodies pile up and little remorse shown from external characters. Lou’s love for Jackie seems unconditional, but as reserved as Lou is, she can’t possibly control her girlfriend’s loose canon actions.
“Love Lies Bleeding” is a bombastic twist on the crime drama genre with 1980s flourishes and an ominous score from composer Clint Mansell. Stewart proves to be a powerhouse performer in a role defined by sexuality, love, lust, anger, and connection. As Lou’s family becomes a stereotype of criminal activity, her sense of self gets lost in the mix, leading to a jaw-dropping ending.
For her part, Katy O’Brian sinks her teeth into the meaty role of a bisexual Oklahoma native with a Hulk mentality and the veiny muscles to accompany it. Jackie takes on every situation with zeal and mystery, a destructive combination for a roided-out junkie confident enough to triumph in life, no matter the cost. Her relationship with Lou suffers as Jackie’s personal goals get in the way of Lou’s desire to protect her new love life.
Despite the tranquil desert setting, there’s an air of danger lingering at every stop light. No character should be forgotten as witnesses to several crimes become main attractions to further the story. Glass is always aware of what might disgust her audience and make them squirm, a delightful and intriguing addition to this psychological thriller that is anything but subtle. It’s an impressive directorial achievement that compliments the work of Glass’s equally stirring cast.
“Love Lies Bleeding” takes an easily digestible murder scenario and spins it on its head. Just when Lou thinks she’s gotten off scot-free, loose ends come back to haunt her at almost every turn. It’s a push-and-pull plot that sees family members pitted against one another, jealousy and trauma coming to light, and revenge unraveling to an exponential degree.
Just don’t make Jackie angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.
A24 will distribute “Love Lies Bleeding.”
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