Love Lies Bleeding – Review

Love Lies Bleeding This review contains mild spoilers

If you watched Rose Glass’s debut, Saint Maud, there’s a strong chance you left the cinema in a state of shock and disorientation. Striking in its visuals and bolstered by incredibly strong central performances, it left a distinct mark on the horror crowd. So, how do you follow that up?

Well, you take a left turn into body building and keep going until you hit Albuquerque in the late 1980s.

Love Lies Bleeding, which was the opening gala at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, takes us deep into the dustbowl with Lou (Kristen Stewart), a bored gym employee with a more than dysfunctional family. The arrival of body builder Jackie (Katy O’Brian) sparks something of a new adventure in her life, as she explores a passionate love affair with the newcomer. In amongst all of this, Lou continues to battle her demons, in the form of her gun-running father (Ed Harris) and abusive brother-in-law (Dave Franco). From the cast alone, this is quite the leap from Glass’s debut. Where the film finds its success is in the performances, the cinematography, its dark humour and Clint Mansell’s pulpy, throbbing soundtrack.

There appear to be two main themes circling this film – which, according to Glass was almost called Macho Sluts – both of which are entirely contemporary, despite the film’s setting. The first is an exploration of toxic attachment styles. Lou wants to cease contact with her dad but still works at his gym and is still haunted by blood red flashbacks of his previous acts of violence. Beth (Jena Malone) believes Dave Franco’s character to be a good father and husband, despite having the living shit beaten out of her at least twice in the film’s run time. Local girl Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) gets jealous when she hears that Lou is with Katy – she wants to be the one commanding her time. These relationships are so obviously toxic and yet, due to the small town setting, you cannot imagine anyone truly removing themselves from harm.

Another notion Glass explores is that of the “dream girl”. As much as Jackie dreams of starting a new life by winning a body building competition in Vegas, Lou is also looking for an escape from her father. Does she entice Jackie into using steroids to build her own fantasy woman (or monster, depending on your take on the violence in this film) to help her get there? When we see Jackie swelling in size, is that really happening or is this just how Lou sees her?

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian offer up incredible performances. O’Brian, in particular, dominates the screen with her impressive physicality. Both seem to have fantastic comedic timing, when it is called for, but can deliver equally compelling dramatic turns. Their love story feels authentic, albeit chaotic, and their chemistry is excellent. Ed Harris – looking like something out of Tales from the Crypt Keeper with those hair extensions – is positively rippling with violence throughout.

Love Lies Bleeding The violence in the film is interesting in itself. Some of it is hyper stylised to the point of comedy, other moments are truly shocking. Black humour does pepper its way through the script – such as Lou contemplating stealing cigarettes from a dead body despite the fact she’s trying to quit – and it does allow you to breathe a little in amongst all of the drama. There are also some fascinating choices made around Jackie’s burgeoning physicality – we see veins popping and throbbing, muscles engorged and creaking with growth. There are also some mild horror elements as we see Jackie struggling with the sheer amount of steroids she has injected. These are used sparingly and for maximum effect.

Ben Fordesman’s cinematography, coupled with Glass’s direction, makes for some utterly mesmerising visuals. Gorgeous, sweeping shots of inky violet skies meet seemingly endless miles of motorway. The town itself feels slicked with sweat and dust; grimy. There are also invasive, hand-held shots that bring a level of intensity to conversations that a static mid-shot could never achieve. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack provides the perfect synthy accompaniment that matches both the action on screen and the era in which it is set.

Love Lies Bleeding feels like one of these films that might divide viewers. For some, it might just be too weird. For others, it might not feel scary enough (when compared to Saint Maud). However, it is absolutely on the right side of bonkers. There are so many elements that weave together so effortlessly to create a film that somehow feels both fresh and familiar; dangerous and endearing. Rose Glass is truly a phenomenal talent and this is reflected in her latest cinematic offering. A must watch.

Love Lies Bleeding was the opening gala at the Glasgow Film Festival and is set to hit UK cinemas in May. Get your festival tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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