Review – Love Lies Bleeding

Saint Maud is one of the most memorable and terrifying psychological thrillers in recent memory. The religious horror is shocking, violent, disturbing, and responsible for one of the greatest final shots (and jump scares) in a horror film, possibly ever. Filmmaker Rose Glass made an impact in the indie film scene as Saint Maud did the festival circuit, garnering critical acclaim, and eventually being picked up by indie powerhouse distributor A24, who have now brought Glass’ highly anticipated sophomore feature to the screen in Love Lies Bleeding.

Swapping the religious horror foundation for a pulpy, neon-lit, noir aesthetic doesn’t mean Glass has dropped the shocking, violent, and disturbing nature. In fact, Glass has doubled down creating a super bloody and tension filled crime-thriller that follows bodybuilding drifter Jackie (Katy O’Brian), who on her way to a competition in Las Vegas, makes a pit stop in New Mexico where she meets Lou (Kristen Stewart), a gym manager who has familial ties to a dark web of crime, led by her father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris).

As an intense, romantic spark ignites between Jackie and Lou, their love soon travels down a path of bloody violence when their undying loyalty to each other is tested after a shocking act of abuse causes an unprecedented reaction that reveals more about the two lovers to each other than first anticipated.

Set against the backdrop of the 1980s, the neon-lights, mullets, perms, and flamboyant spandex add a sense of dirtiness to the already gritty landscape of New Mexico. Whether it’s grungy gyms or dank dive bars, Rose Glass’ visual tone of the film grabs you immediately with its pulp-noir aesthetic. It’s a perfect matching of aesthetic and tone, captured sharply by Glass’ direction, that purposefully never shies away from the grittiness of the film, in both scenery and violence.

Another immediately engaging aspect of Love Lies Bleeding is its mystery. If Saint Maud is anything to go by regarding how Glass plays out her narratives, haunting images like red-shaded murders and stare-down shots of the off-putting Lou Sr. playing out without explanation are expected and do a brilliant job of constantly reminding the audience that there is an inherent darkness brooding underneath this love story.

Weaving a series of, for the majority, degenerate characters (some of who have the occasional redeeming qualities) in and out of Jackie and Lou’s story richly enhances the world surrounding them, often with disdain of their actions, but also carrying that gross feeling of not being able to look away from what they’re doing, because morbid curiosity keeps brining you back in to find out more about this deep web of criminals.

Ed Harris as Lou Sr. and Dave Franco as JJ are the epitome of this gross feeling that lingers around the film. They are misogynistic, violent, abusive men who have the power at the beginning of this film, and its anger inducing because they are disgusting, despicable degenerates. It’s a testament to both actors, especially to Franco who is playing so heavily against type in this role, for creating such characters who cause such visceral reactions. JJ’s disgusting nature is equally matched by Lou Sr.’s truly intimidating presence.

However, it’s Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart who carry this story on their shoulders, exploding with chemistry and screen presence in career defining roles. Stewart’s commitment to Lou’s spiral throughout the story showcases her ability to combine nuance and electric charged performances, something that makes the character of Lou so interesting to watch go through the brutal ringer of events in this film.

Katy O’Brian is a force, stealing every moment she’s on screen with her physicality and emotionally dialled performance as Jackie. A former bodybuilder herself, O’Brian’s naturally muscular frame not only serves Jackie’s character arc, but also her strong personality and intense desire to be a champion bodybuilder. But it’s the chemistry between O’Brian and Stewart, how their love develops, and how their relationship is affected by the events of the film, that is the most engaging and fantastic aspect of Love Lies Bleeding.

Rose Glass is not afraid to shock audiences, and the violence in this film makes that apparent. But it’s the bold swings Glass takes with certain visuals and unnatural, body horror elements that put her stamp as a filmmaker on Love Lies Bleeding. It gets disturbing, confronting and cringe-inducing. It will also be the most divisive aspect of the film for most audiences. Suspending belief is somewhat of a requirement for the rapidly rising insanity, but it’s worth it for the pay off.

Love Lies Bleeding is a shocking, brutal and brilliant second film from Rose Glass. Glass’ ability to simultaneously disturb the audience, but also make us root for the intense love that develops between the main characters, is a testament to her filmmaking. Anchored by two powerhouse performances from Stewart and O’Brian, and disgustingly good supporting turns from Harris and Franco, make this pulpy, noir thriller one not miss.

Love Lies Bleeding is in Australian cinemas March 14, courtesy of VVS Films.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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Saint Maud is one of the most memorable and terrifying psychological thrillers in recent memory. The religious horror is shocking, violent, disturbing, and responsible for one of the greatest final shots (and jump scares) in a horror film, possibly ever. Filmmaker Rose Glass made...Review - Love Lies Bleeding