Love Lies Bleeding (Sundance) Review

Connie Queline

Love Lies Bleeding (Sundance) Review

Kristen Stewart makes for a memorable Neo-noir antihero in the mean-spirited, violent Love Lies Bleeding, which is good, pulpy fun.

PLOT: A gym manager, Lou (Kristen Stewart), falls head-over-heels in love with a female bodybuilder, Jackie (Katy O’Brian). But, their bliss is short-lived, as the two end up getting tangled up with Lou’s criminal father (Ed Harris). 

REVIEW: Rose Glass’s Love Lies Bleeding is a dark, stylized, ultra-mean-spirited neo-noir. It skates on the edge of perhaps being a little too self-aware for its good in the surreal finale, but it’s still a very entertaining and twisty thriller. 

Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast as the laconic noir anti-hero who hooks up now and then with a girl (Anna Baryshnikov), she can’t stand but otherwise leads a lonely life with her cat. Being set in 1989, the constantly smoking Lou is trying to quit with books on tape that have little to no effect, only for her life to be blown up when she sets her eyes on Katy O’Brian’s impressively muscled bodybuilder.

Gender-swapping, the typical noir protagonist, is an intriguing choice, with Stewart playing it in a rough-and-tumble fashion. She’s mostly excellent, outside of a moment or two when she leans too heavily into the anti-hero tropes, allowing the film to border on parody. This includes a moment where Lou smokes a cigarette while trying to seduce Jackie after a fight that felt a bit like she was trying to satirize the kinds of alpha-male roles Mickey Rourke played back in the era this is set in, making it border on becoming a spoof rather than a homage. It feels out of touch with the rest of the film, which is pretty classically styled, outside of a controversial, surreal climax open to interpretation. 

Katy O’Brian, who’s a rising star with roles in The Mandalorian and the upcoming Twisters, is impressive as the femme fatale bodybuilder. Both characters are prone to be abusive to each other at times, making this a darker love story than you might think. Glass isn’t interested in creating a fairy tale, with Stewart showing off a cruel streak several times in the movie that I imagine a lot of other actresses wouldn’t dare play. She’s always been brave with her choice of roles, and this is undoubtedly one of her roughest.

Stewart and O’Brian are well-supported by the great Ed Harris, who shows up sporting a Kim Mitchell-tyle skullet as Lou’s gun-dealing papa, with many bodies buried he doesn’t want people digging into. While psychotic, one thing the movie doesn’t do is make him homophobic, with him openly approving of Lou’s sexuality, even if in every other way he’s a nightmare. Dave Franco plays against type as Lou’s wife-beating brother-in-law, although the depiction of Jena Malone as his oft-hit wife is pretty one-note.

Glass has undoubtedly made a beautiful film in Love Lies Bleeding, opting for a pulpy aesthetic that suits the film. The score by Clint Mansel is terrific, as are the eighties new wave needle drops.  It’s an interesting second film for Glass, a mash-up of classic neo-noir in the vein of John Dahl’s Red Rock West and the Coen Bros’ Blood Simple, with a synth wave undertone and horror movie-style graphic violence. It’s not perfect, and it won’t be for everyone. But it’s a wild, entertaining ride. 

love lies bleeding review



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