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“Don’t ever fall in love.” – Jackie

From the very first minute, “Love Lies Bleeding” establishes a visceral sense of uneasiness. The film begins with a foreshadowing scene of Lou (Kristen Stewart) unclogging a toilet in the grimy bathroom of the rundown gym she manages. When the alluring amateur bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian) drifts into town and into Lou’s gym, the immediate spark between the two lets us know this relationship will be anything but dull. Over the course of the next 100 minutes, Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brien paint the town red.

It’s the late ‘80s in small town New Mexico and Jackie has her eyes set on an upcoming women’s bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. Lou, who has nothing else going for her in life, decides to help Jackie by letting her crash at her apartment and providing her with performance-enhancing drugs. Their relationship comes on fast, like a high-speed train and poses the question: what happens when a runaway and a dweller crash into each other at full speed, tongue first, while rational thinking takes a back seat–or perhaps it’s stuffed in the trunk?

In her second feature film, following 2019’s “Saint Maud,” director Rose Glass is back to tell us she’s not pulling any punches. Each scene drips with sweat, sex, and blood (or worse) as we quickly see the women go from a budding romance to on-the-run criminals. Their seedy, pulpy affair leaves only destruction in its path as Lou’s past catches up with her and Jackie falls deeper into steroid use.

Kristen Stewart drives “Love Lies Bleeding,” reinforced by a forceful performance from Katy O’Brian. The strong cast doesn’t stop there: we are gifted with Jenna Malone–and her striking resemblance to Kristen Stewart–as Lou’s sister, Beth; Beth’s deadbeat husband played by the cocky Dave Franco; newcomer Anna Baryshnikov as the funniest character in the film, Daisy; and the inimitable Ed Harris, like we’ve never seen him before.

If you thought Ed Harris was scary before, wait until you see him as Lou’s father, Lou Sr. (aka “The Bug Guy”), with half a head of hair and a whole lot of crazy. Ed Harris has a knack for portraying ominous figures in the peripheries of films such as “The Truman Show,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and the HBO series “Westworld.” Glass follows a similar formula in the initial glimpses into Lou Sr.’s world, each one a little freakier than the last. As “Love Lies Bleeding” unravels, Lou and Jackie become irrevocably caught in Lou Sr.’s web.

Sprinkled with hints of Lynch, Cronenberg, Coen Brothers, and more, “Love Lies Bleeding” is rarely tiptoeing around these homages, but rather leaning into them, poking the edges, seeing how this unique queer romance fits within the canon. This lesbian love affair is given a mesmerizing stage and backdrop. It never feels as if Glass is putting the couple under a magnifying glass (like one of Lou Sr.’s bugs). Instead, the film provides these women with a vehicle for revenge and agency, not unlike a “Thelma & Louise” on steroids.

A personal favorite recurring imagery and setting in “Love Lies Bleeding” is the gorge. Suggestive in its shape–the lips of the gorge open to an unending abyss of black–and electrifying in its power within the story. These beautiful, broad shots of the cracked earth meld with the extreme close-ups of Jackie’s muscles and veins or Lou’s lips. The screen bulges with texture. While Jackie and Lou are so physically on display in the film and rooted in reality, Glass decides to transcend the restrictions that the physical world puts on Jackie and Lou, a commentary on being a queer woman in a rural late ‘80s town. It also leaves us pondering the lies we tell ourselves for love.

With genuinely hilarious scenarios, shocking scenes, cushioned with some softer, intimate moments, and WTFs abound, “Love Lies Bleeding” sets its own course with unexpected turns left, right, up, and down. It’s a film to see with friends in a crowded theater, where you can revel in the shared cackles that can’t be stifled at a certain point or the sound of the entire audience gasping in unison. 

— Kasey Dunifer


Love Lies Bleeding” is currently playing at The Varsity Cinema.


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