Film Review: Love Lies Bleeding is deliciously wild and audaciously brutal

If her prominent post-Twilight work hasn’t convinced you to join the Kristen Stewart appreciation club, then may I suggest signing up in the wake of Love Lies Bleeding, a deliciously wild, brutal noir crime comedy that gleefully breaks your jaw in the process.

And there’s a reason I specified a breaking jaw in that analogy, as the imagery of such is just one of the many confronting moments peppered throughout Rose Glass‘s intense, sometimes sickening thriller that, despite its exaggerated visuals, always feels in control of its own temperament.

Set in 1989 New Mexico, Stewart stars as Lou, who we first meet unclogging the most vile of toilets in a dirty gym.  It speaks to the unglamorous life she lives, and it’s why she’s immediately drawn to Jackie (Katy O’Brian, a knockout), a female bodybuilder whose presence can’t help but be felt.  Lou is intrigued, and it isn’t long before the two of them are enjoying each other’s company; there’s lingering conversations, a fist fight, and tending to Jackie’s bruises in the interim.

Jackie’s goal is to compete in a bodybuilding competition out of Las Vegas, but beyond that she doesn’t have anything concrete in how she’ll bide her time before such travel.  Lou offers up her bed, and soon her heart, as the two find a comfort within one another in a manner that clearly neither has found satisfying prior.  But Glass hasn’t constructed the simplest of love stories.  There’s a lot going on for Lou and Jackie, and it ultimately comes down that of Lou Sr. (Ed Harris, effectively unnerving), Lou’s father who runs the town in a low-level mobster type of way; and, though they are family, blood connection doesn’t mean anything if you stand in his way.

The 1980s setting means Glass has a lot of fun with the wardrobe and hair choices for the cast – Stewart sports a shag cut, O’Brian is adorned with a curly mop, Harris’s look is long and wispy, equally revolting as it is amusing, and Dave Franco (who’s an absolutely vile creation as Lou’s abusive brother-in-law) nails the dirty douche look – but they never serve as distraction or fodder for the material.  It’s a perfect encapsulation for film that indulges in an at-times magical realism – the way steroid abuse is represented through Jackie’s ever increasing size is audaciously amusing – and grounds itself with its raw depiction of violence and sex.

After announcing herself with the deeply unsettling Saint Maud in 2019, Love Lies Bleeding serves as further proof of Glass’s uncanny ability to create access points for lonely characters and their possible own self-destruction in their journey to achieve desire.  This grimy tale may have a happier ending compared to her debut, and moreso indulge in its romantic inclinations, but it’s no means any less psychological in its depiction of loneliness; it just has a wilder sheen to distract us.

A disgusting, sexy movie – meant as the highest of compliments – Love Lies Bleeding won’t prove digestible to the masses (general audiences shouldn’t be fooled by the film’s poster, which suggests a more accessibly erotic picture, given it’s O’Brian’s toned fame brandishing a handgun), but for those that are prepared to literally see this Rose Glass’s coloured glasses, Stewart and O’Brian’s dysfunctional spree will continually command your attention.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Love Lies Bleeding is screening in Australian theatres now.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.