Love Lies Bleeding Review: A Punk, Pulpy Ride

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian electrify in edgy noir thriller

Kristen Stewart is in her Gay as Fuck era and we’re all better for it. Love Lies Bleeding casts Hollywood’s defiant star in a badass role that’s her queerest part to date. And it’s one of her best. Stewart plays Lou, a young woman with a greasy mullet who manages a New Mexico gym. The place is a dump and Lou pulls shit out of toilets daily, but the gym offers a prime view of buff women on display.

Case in point is aspiring bodybuilder Jackie (The Mandalorian’s Katy O’Brian) who rolls into town and needs a place to crash. Sparks fly as Lou checks out Jackie from behind the register. Her rock hard abs, bulging biceps, and overall ripped physique give Lou’s eyes their best workout in years. Jackie sees her looking and she likes it. No sooner than the sun sets are these girls riding off like the lesbian edition of Thelma and Louise.

Love Lies Bleeding is sweaty, dirty, pulpy noir to its core and it’s absolutely electrifying. Director Rose Glass (Saint Maud), working with a script she wrote with Weronika Tofilska, spins the “female friendship” movie on its head. Drawing from elements of badass B-movies and arthouse pics alike, Glass creates a bracing and empowering tale of women who refuse to be victims.

Lou and Jackie quickly find their groove, and shacking up offers more than a roof over the latter’s head. Home is where the heart is, but it’s also a safe place with someone so fearless and strong sharing the bed. The women find themselves surrounded by mean dudes, yet Lou doesn’t need to worry if Jackie’s by her side. Those pipes are the biggest guns in the west.

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It complicates matters, too, that the roughest men in town are Lou’s own kin. Her dad—Lou Sr., who named his daughter with a constant reminder that he’d have preferred a son—is a gun smuggler who runs the shooting range where Jackie happens to find work. Played by Ed Harris, Lou Sr. is a mean old cuss. He sports a worse mullet than his daughter and he’s arguably responsible for the streak of meanness that sometimes flashes to Lou’s surface.

The family attracts a certain man, too, since Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is married to a real jackass (Dave Franco). Beth’s husband, JJ, uses her like a punching bag. He pummels her worse than Jackie pounds the bag in preparation for her bodybuilding competition in Vegas. When he finally beats Beth so hard she lands comatose in the hospital, then the family’s penchant for meanness explodes. A jarring act of violence leaves a trail of corpses in its wake.

Love Lies Bleeding sees Lou and Jackie travel down the road that many women in the movies have journeyed before. But instead of running from violent men, these women run towards the danger. The face it head-on and refused to cower no matter how many gun-totin’ idiots come their way. Sure, their path paves a trail of blood-spattered poor decisions. But the bodies that pile up aren’t those of innocents. The film therefore finds an uneasy eye for street justice. The bloodlust, brutal as it may be, proves deliciously satisfying. There’s something really punk about seeing this duo bash some doofuses sky high.

Glass finds the sweet spot between high art and trash, too, which makes Love Lies Bleeding such a rush. The camera holds onto the violence and affords some totally gruesome kill shots. But the aim here isn’t to titillate. The film forces viewers to look at the consequences of deeds by violent men.

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The film also makes a fun spin on gender as Jackie’s empowerment through bodybuilding puts her outside both the men and the women in the film. Despite being the strongest force on the gun range, the men in town snicker at her even though she’d handily beat them in a bareknuckle brawl. Meanwhile, as her need to prove herself through strength consumes her, Jackie becomes a ’roided-out She Hulk. She grows beefier the angrier she gets. By the end of the bloodbath, she’s damn angry and Hulked-out enough to grind a man to dust.

It helps, too, that Stewart and O’Brian have positively electric chemistry. Stewart continues her stellar run of roles on the heels of Crimes of the Future, Spencer, and Seberg that allow her to explore shades of multifaceted women. Her twitchiness and seeming sense of discomfort with her own skin, accentuated by Lou’s discernable clamminess, puts the character in a unique position where she constantly feels her internalized victim role percolating to the surface. Where Jackie can simply solve a problem with a punch, Lou flexes her mental and emotional muscles. In doing so, she arguably finds herself in the bigger fight as the violence reaches its zenith and the inevitable showdown with her mulleted father.

As Jackie, meanwhile, O’Brian gives a true breakout performance. She scorches the screen with magnificent presence that simply isn’t limited to her bulky physique. There’s an x-factor at play in Love Lies Bleeding that matches Stewart’s own and one gets the sense of a new cult figure for movie heroines. She’s Ellen Ripley, Thelma, and Xena: Warrior Princess rolled into one.

Love Lies Bleeding is a wild ride. Expect to hit up the showers afterwards: this is one workout that’ll leave you good and sweaty.

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Love Lies Bleeding opens in theatres on March 15.

 

 



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