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  • Aliena Abernathy

​​Love wins: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Review​

By: Aliena Abernathy 

"Love Lies Bleeding" comes off the tail of Glass’s 2019 psychological thriller “Saint Maud," which explored a woman willing to go to masochistic extremes in the interest of serving her faith. Glass’s previous films are marked with a pessimism about relationships, whether they speak on unhealthy relationships with religion in “Saint Maud” or depict doomed romantic relationships that end in horrific tragedy in her multitude of short films. Glass hardly gives her characters the satisfaction of finding happiness. This makes “Love Lies Bleeding” a surprising yet welcome entry into her filmography as she not only effortlessly barges her way into becoming a prominent figure in queer film canon but substitutes the films more serious and unhealthy relational themes with genuine affection and romance.  

"Love Lies Bleeding" Poster, credit to: A24

The film paints a portrait of queer life in a 1989 rendition of small-town in New Mexico, the main conflict being the dynamic between the love-struck couple of Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian). The couple's brains-and-brawn (Lou being the brains and Jackie being the brawn) dynamic is soon stretched to its extremes. The fistfights Jackie initiates outside of the gym Lou manages transform from home invasions to full-on rampages into the criminal compound of Lou’s distant and murderous gun-running father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). These are all subtly orchestrated by the outwardly bumbling but inwardly conniving Lou. The escalation of events is extremely fast-paced, almost to the point of nauseum, were it not for the tight editing paired with a beautifully stylistic take on ‘80s neon-core.  


The setup reminds me of Thelma and Louise with a twinge more gore and an unhealthy number of drugs and neon backlighting. Take, for example, the scene after a fistfight outside Lou’s gym. Lou is nursing Jackie’s black eye while staring in awe at her figure. Jackie mentions she is strolling through town on her way to Las Vegas to compete in a body-building competition she is hell bent on winning, and in a well-intentioned attempt to aid her in her goals, she supplies her with free steroids. This results in them ending up in bed together, depicted with vibrant neon red lights enveloping the pair against the backdrop of Lou’s home. The home is shown melting in a psychedelic manner, reminiscent of paint dripping off a wall, as everything but each other melts away from their consciousness. It’s a scene which expertly mirrors the intense passion between the couple and foreshadows the delusions Jackie experiences (the shifting backdrop) as she journeys into the depths of

 roid-rage, only to be tamed and wielded by Lou in her plots to overthrow her father's criminal empire. This is just one of endless examples of the film using its visual style to its complete thematic advantage. 

The fast pace and reliance on stylistic flair both helps and hurts the film: it’s helped it by giving it an anxiety-inducing escalation and visuals that are at times equally as sensual as they are gut-wrenching; but hurting it by not allowing the characters to exist outside of the plot of the film which results in a lack of character depth. To explain further, by the end of the runtime, it is only hinted that the characters have a life outside of each other, and we end up knowing little about them because of that. Besides a copy of ‘Macho Sluts’ (one of the earliest and most politically important collections of lesbian erotica) that sits precariously on Lou’s kitchen table, and a minute-long phone call from Jackie back to her parents in Oklahoma, the characters have no past and very few interests. This bleeds into Lou and Jackie’s relationship as well. It’s never made clear if the attraction they share is beyond the purely physical. The most poignant scenes between them, while extremely intimate and well executed, are confined exclusively to the bedroom. While this does make the dynamic tantalizing and fun, it also reduces it to a somewhat shallow affair.

"Katy O'Brian in "Love Lies Bleeding"; A24/Anna Kooris.

That said, Stewart and O’Brian burst out of the confines of the writing to make the roles uniquely their own. O’Brian, after establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with when she starred as Jentorra in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” returns to the big screen to show off her wide range of acting abilities as Jackie. She pulls off the challenging task of portraying the confidence of a woman who is gradually being destroyed by her addiction. She gives off a macho veneer that sheds away any time she interacts with Stewart’s character, when she lets her guard down through a wonderfully expressive shift in body language and behavior.  

Stewart dominates the viewer's attention in what I believe is her best performance to date. Jackie is a role that seems to have been tailor made for Stewart’s trademark underplayed and naturalistic style of acting. Where Jackie, on the surface, is an ambitionless bum who half-manages half-inhabits a run-down gym, Stewart takes the character’s background and plays it to a significant advantage in her portrayal of Lou.  


For example, in one scene after Jackie has committed a murder against one of Lou’s reviled in-laws, Lou must nurse a traumatized Jackie into helping her carry out an impromptu crime-scene cleanup and corpse disposal. While initially horrified by the scene, Stewart’s performance perfectly portrays the gears of Lou’s brain turning as she recalls her childhood where she aided her father in his criminal activities. Using this past knowledge of criminal activity, she devises a plan to use this situation to get back at him for the wrongdoings that resulted in the alienation between the two. The sequence is short due to the fast pace of the film; however, you almost forget Stewart is acting as she navigates and embodies the calculated, devious, and hopelessly gay tour de force that is Lou. 


In the neon-lit frenzy of 'Love Lies Bleeding,' Stewart and O’Brian ignite the screen with a ferocious chemistry that screams passion, power, and a dash of madness. The film’s problems, as few as they already are, take a backseat as the viewer is put under the spell of Glass’s vigorous style of filmmaking. As she navigates through a whirlwind of violence and desire, one thing becomes clear: in this chaotic world, love reigns supreme.

Kristen Steward (left) and Katy O'Brian (right) in "Love Lies Bleeding"; A24/Anna Kooris.




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