Love Lies Bleeding (2024, dir. Rose Glass)

by | Apr 30, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 104 mins

UK Distributor: Lionsgate

UK Release Date: 3 May 2024

WHO’S IN LOVE LIES BLEEDING?

Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, Dave Franco

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Rose Glass (director, writer), Weronika Tofilska (writer), Andrea Cornwell and Oliver Kassman (producers), Clint Mansell (composer), Ben Fordesman (cinematographer), Mark Towns (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A gym manager (Stewart) falls in love with an ambitious bodybuilder (O’Brian)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON LOVE LIES BLEEDING?

Love Lies Bleeding is the best Coen Brothers movie in years – which is odd to say, given how neither Joel nor Ethan’s names are attached to it, not to mention that it is arriving just months after an actual Coen Brother (non-plural) entry, Drive-Away Dolls, a film that funnily enough also dealt with horny gay women getting on the wrong side of the law.

However, not only does the second feature by director and co-writer Rose Glass – after her explosive debut with the religious horror Saint Maud – trump practically every single similar element in Ethan Coen’s wacky road trip comedy, but that it also nails the grim, mysterious and darkly funny nature of a classic film by the filmmaker siblings. Seriously, you could present Love Lies Bleeding to someone as a long-lost entry by the Coens, probably made around the same time as their own debut feature Blood Simple, and they’d be justified in believing you.

The fact remains, though, that this is very much a Rose Glass feature, and the filmmaker shows a firm and playful grip on genre storytelling that isn’t afraid to go to some strange, yet captivating places that are impossible not to admire.

Set in a small New Mexico town in 1989, Love Lies Bleeding follows Lou (Kristen Stewart), a lowly gym manager who is estranged from her father Lou Sr (Ed Harris), a powerful crime figure who runs a local shooting range through which he acts as a lethal gun runner. One evening, Lou locks eyes with an out-of-towner named Jackie (Katy O’Brian), an aspiring bodybuilder who’s passing through on her way to a competition in Las Vegas, and the two immediately hit it off, finding comfort in their shared passions and their recreational use of steroids. However, Lou is also trapped in a difficult position between her older sister Beth (Jena Malone) and her abusive husband J.J. (Dave Franco), which along with Jackie’s growing dependence on steroids for her increasingly muscular body triggers a violent series of events that force Lou to face off against her criminal family once and for all.

Similar to Saint Maud, Glass – along with her co-writer Weronika Tofilska (who recently directed a number of episodes for Netflix’s outstanding miniseries Baby Reindeer) – creates a grim and somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere as we dive further into Stewart and O’Brian’s characters, and their wildly different trajectories. Both have dark and troubled pasts that we only ever get glimpses of, but enough is said through the careful dialogue that Glass and Tofilska craft for them that it makes perfect sense why these two deeply flawed people would find a connection in one another, within a world that is in and of itself deeply flawed. The romantic chemistry between both actors is excellent, particularly in love scenes that proudly display their own distinct brand of eroticism, and as they each become more and more intertwined with criminal activity and steroid addiction, you can feel the frustration and anger in them rising with every passing minute as their nerves and insecurities become too much to handle all at once.

The director also does a grand job of replicating the late-80s aesthetic without leaning too heavily into nostalgia, wherein costumes and vehicles and hairstyles – the wig that Ed Harris wears throughout is a sight to behold – are all era-appropriate but also fit within the seedy nature of the plot itself. There is a real sense of sleaze around virtually every corner, which both cinematographer Ben Fordesman and Clint Mansell’s synth-heavy musical score amplify with their shared fascination with the grimy situation that most of these characters have found themselves in, all while displaying some of the repellent attitudes that were unfortunately present at this point in time. Glass is also not one to shy away from some extreme, over-the-top violence that often gets pretty gnarly, made even more so by some effective make-up and practical prosthetics that show every last gory detail, in addition to some nasty character habits that the actors are more than willing to flex, including one who just simply eats a beetle without hesitation.

To bring it back to the earlier Coen Brothers comparison, Love Lies Bleeding similarly indulges in some rather out-there executions of surreal ideas that may or may not win you over, depending on how willing you are to go along with it. For one, the film taps into aspects of body horror, particularly in tight close-up shots of Jackie’s body as it becomes monstrously muscular from the obsessive workout regime she puts herself through (as well as those iffy steroids), leading to a moment during the final act that – without spoilers – takes a turn for the fantastical, which might be a lot to ask of the viewer to accept after a film that had mostly been grounded firmly in reality until then. Personally, I was fine with such a moment, because by that point I was still fully invested in these characters and where the story seemed to be heading, so it was easier for me to be on board with this foray into madness. But I recognise that not everyone will feel that way, to which I would advise that having an open mind is paramount for some of the things that this movie touches upon, especially during that final reel.

It all but confirms Rose Glass as a sheer force of nature, since it’s now abundantly clear, between Saint Maud and now Love Lies Bleeding, that the filmmaker has a deep passion for wild and imaginative storytelling within specific genres that bring out their dark and unnerving side better than some of the more seasoned pros could. It is exciting to think of all the places where she could take her career next, and how she may bring her dark but engaging vision to other types of film that could do with some of her playful enthusiasm.

We also now know, because of her film’s thunderous acceleration past Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls, that Glass is more capable of making a bona fide Coen Brothers film than one of the actual Coen Brothers.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Love Lies Bleeding is an exceptional romantic crime thriller that positions director and co-writer Rose Glass as a sheer filmmaking force, one who brings a playful and occasionally surreal energy to genre storytelling that rivals the Coen Brothers in its dark wit and gruesome violence.

Five out of five stars

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