Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Dynamic Love Lies Bleeding a steamy, hallucinogenic neo-noir daydream laced with nitroglycerin

Share this Post:


Love Lies Bleeding is the first truly great film of 2024. Director Rose Glass delivers on the promise vividly showcased in her 2019 debut Saint Maud, unleashing a twisted, surrealistic neo-noir thriller that craftily defies easy categorization. Funny, shocking, and emotionally intoxicating at an almost primordial level, this chaotic love story is an imaginative blast of character-driven nitroglycerin and is guaranteed to be one of the year's best.

Set in 1989 in the sun-drenched nowhere of an isolated New Mexico desert community, the story follows gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) and wandering wannabe bodybuilding champion Jackie (Katy O'Brian). The latter is making a four-week pit stop in the small town to train for an upcoming competition in Las Vegas. The former is trying to stay away from her gun range—owning father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris) while also being a protective voice of reason for her sister Beth (Jena Malone), whose abusive husband JJ (Dave Franco) regularly beats her.

What happens next is where all the heart-stopping fun is found. Lou and Jackie enter into a sexually charged relationship, the heat generated by their mutual attraction melting the screen. Lou Sr. is evil to the core. JJ is a timid, emasculated, drunken loser who uses Beth as a punching bag to prove he's still a man. Drugs get used. People are killed. The wall between reality and fantasy comes crumbling down and leads to shockingly violent revelations in which innocent and guilty alike are left pleading for their lives.

Glass composed the script for all this brazen nonsense with fellow indie filmmaker and longtime friend Weronika Tofilska, and their collaboration is a thing of unhinged beauty. While there are obvious echoes to classic film noir, Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts, George Butler's Pumping Iron II: The Women, John Dahl's Red Rock West, Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, and Lana and Lilly Wachowski's Bound, that's all surface-level foreplay. Glass and Tofilska are not hamstrung by their influences and do not attempt to copy any of them. Instead, their material is its own unique animal, jumping from genre to genre to genre with gleefully cutthroat enthusiasm.

This is what makes the film so glorious. An "anything goes" mentality permeates the production right down to the marrow. Glass unapologetically challenges the viewer to keep track of what is going on, and she fearlessly asks the audience to accept horrifying and appalling actions by her protagonists that in lesser hands would be repellently unacceptable. Tonal and stylistic choices are like something out of a hallucinogenic daydream (or better yet, nightmare), and the climax owes as much to 1950's B-grade science fiction crossed with the early works of the Coen brothers as it does to legendary noir auteurs like Fritz Lang or Jean Negulesco.

Glass kept me on my toes, and I had to keep up with everything that she was doing. She took wild swings of artistic legerdemain that I found breathtaking. This is a rare motion picture where I legitimately wondered how things were going to turn out from one moment to the next. Scenes of pitch-black comedy are immediately followed by sequences of gut-wrenching terror, while hard-hitting jolts of blatantly gooey soap-opera melodrama are smothered by steamy acts of romance and lust that left me wiping the sweat from my brow.

Stewart is stupendous. Lou initially appears to be an emotionally castrated sad sack who is going to brood her way through this pulp fiction from her first appearance to her last, but that's only a smokescreen. She paints with a broad brush that allows the character to spring to life with complicated gusto. This is a real person dealing with hard-hitting issues, ranging from the absurd to the tragic. She can be pitiable one moment and hilarious the next. Lou contains internalized multitudes that make her sneakily dangerous when the chips are down and brutally tough decisions must be made if one is to survive.

Newcomer O'Brian matches her more high-profile costar beat for beat. While she's had small roles in everything from Disney+'s The Mandalorian to a slightly bigger one in Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantomania, this is her first true chance to showcase her expressive talents. Jackie arrives in town with little spoken backstory, so the pieces of her journey have to be assembled entirely through the actor's performance. O'Brian manages to do this with magnificent precision. Even when the bodybuilder did something inexcusably heinous, I still found myself rooting for her to persevere and find a way out of the impenetrable moral darkness and back into the regenerative light.

It's all sumptuously shot by cinematographer Ben Fordesman (Out of Darkness) and pieced together with visceral urgency by editor Mark Towns (Censor), while veteran composer Clint Mansell (Noah, Moon) delivers a sonically adventurous score that's extraordinary. Harris is chillingly haunting as the primary villain, and Franco is such a repugnantly sexist neanderthal that I wanted to hiss every time JJ made an appearance.

Actress Anna Baryshnikov also makes an unforgettable impression. Yet I find I don't want to say too much about her character and what part she plays in all of this madness. It's been a while since I've seen someone deliver as vivid a portrait of addiction, manipulation, longing, despair, and desire as she does here, and Baryshnikov does it with a stylistic agency that runs the gamut between comical farce and blistering heartbreak with mesmerizing aplomb.

With only two feature-length endeavors to her name, I'm still ready to name Glass as one of the most exciting filmmakers of her generation. If Saint Maud is widely considered one of the better horror films of the past decade, then I can only speculate how Love Lies Bleeding is going to be received. Personally, I think it is one of the greatest sophomore follow-ups by any director that I've had the good fortune to experience in decades, and I say give her carte blanche to do whatever the heck she wants from this point forward.