Love Lies Bleeding: A bloody & bold erotic thriller

Love Lies Bleeding from A24
Love Lies Bleeding from A24 /

Director Rose Glass sure has a knack for depicting obsession in her films, be it the religious fervor of Saint Maud, her debut, or an all-consuming love and infatuation that's the engine and heart of the 80s throwback Love Lies Bleeding. Glass certainly avoids a sophomore slump with her latest feature. Love Lies Bleeding is explosive, with compelling performances from its leads, Kristen Stewart as Lou and Katy O'Brian as Jackie. Their queer relationship becomes all-encompassing and leaves behind quite the body count.

Filmed in New Mexico, Love Lies Bleeding features the type of run-down town that ensnares people if they don't escape. This is best exemplified through the character of Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), who is obsessed with Lou and whose teeth look like they're rotting out of her skull. Lou, who works at a gym, dreads such a future for herself. However, her life finds more meaning when she meets wannabe bodybuilder Jackie.

These two women, queer characters at that, continually move through masculine spaces. For instance, the film opens with shots of the gym. You can hear the clank of weights, juxtaposed with close-ups of mostly muscled male bodies. Yet, both Lou and Jackie operate and navigate this space, Lou as a worker there and Jackie as a bodybuilder. You often wonder if they'll survive such a disruption of traditionally male-occupied spaces without injury or death.

Lou and Jackie's romance starts out hot and heavy, but problems arise when Lou finds out that Jackie took a job as a waitress working at her father's gun range. In short, Lou's old man, played by veteran actor Ed Harris, is a no-good dude. Let's just say, he certainly hides the body. He's a menacing and imposing villain through and through, and it's clear Lou wants a better life for herself, free of her father's gruesome deeds and influence. The gun range setting is yet another masculine space where these women, specifically Jackie, operate.

Love Lies Bleeding /

The cast is rounded out by the familiar Jena Malone, who plays Beth, an abused housewife who clings to her husband, JJ (Dave Franco). However, after he nearly kills her, Lou and Jackie take matters into their own hands, triggering events that unfold during the film's second half, leading to one dead body after the other, as well as cover-ups that have their own consequences. This film has some pretty gruesome and gnarly practical effects too, and Glass isn't afraid to paint the walls red when it's called for, literally.

Though Love Lies Bleeding is very much a queer romance with revenge tossed into the mix, it certainly has horror elements. Due to Lou's early influence, Jackie gets hooked on steroids, which make her monstrous. You can hear her muscles grow and pop. At times, her behavior grows deadlier and feral. This makes for an unsettling bit of body horror, and like Saint Maud, this film mixes fantastical elements with gritty realism, though I do think those scenes are handled a bit better than Saint Maud. There's also the horrific abuse that Beth suffers at the hands of JJ, to the point her face looks bludgeoned, swollen, and purple for most of the film. It's a painful and ghastly sight.

While Love Lies Bleeding deals with some of the same themes evident in Saint Maud, namely how obsession can become dangerous and violent, with her second film, Glass explores these ideas more deeply, spinning a queer romance and bloody erotic thriller in the process. Meanwhile, every performance here elevates this film beyond the bloodshed. Stewart and O'Brian play off each other so well, creating an on-screen relationship that's sexy and deadly at the same time.

Love Lies Bleeding is currently in theaters.

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