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Home > ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024): A Review

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024): A Review

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024): A Review

Remarkably More Than a Lesbian Romance/Thriller

Love Lies Bleeding is a cinematic gem; multifaceted of genre, context, and characters, it’s elaborately detailed and remarkably more than only a lesbian romance/thriller. There are characteristics of horror, Greek myth, and fables besides elements of lesbian culture. Its characters are an accumulation of details, actions, reactions, and their subtexts, their mysteries gradually shed as in a striptease. 

Love Is Murder

In 1989, in some town in the gritty desert of New Mexico, Lou (Kristen Stewart), manages a no-frills bodybuilding gym for her estranged father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). The latest highlight of her life was successfully busting an epic toilet clog in the gym and stepping aside as a stereotypically dumb blonde patron, Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), throws herself at her. Lou’s lustful, but she’d rather drive her pickup truck home, feed herself and her cat, and retire to her sofa to service herself.

Then she meets Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Jackie’s sole purpose is competing in an upcoming women’s bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. She’s been hitchhiking her way towards it. When Lou first lays eyes on Jackie’s ripped muscles wrapped in short shorts and a bikini top, it’s lust at first sight. The sexual electricity between them seems to short-circuit their tongues into awkward small talk about bodybuilding. Lou offers Jackie a steroid injection. She reluctantly accepts, and the needle piercing her buttock and the drug penetrating her glute becomes their foreplay – and provokes a murderous psychotic break that knocks all involved into a chain reaction that scatters them off their courses in divergent directions, ironically, on the road to danger and tragedy, but also toward atonement, epic love, and stark redemption. 

A Motley Cinematic Pedigree

Love Lies Bleeding has a motley cinematic pedigree that passes on traits to its elaborate characters. Like Jackie, Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) in Monster (2003),  seems incredibly traumatized and damaged. She’s queer and falls in love with a young woman. “Love conquers all,” she says. In 1989, the year in which Love Lies Bleeding is set, she kills a client in self defense and then kills six more. Jackie gets her looks and her style from Rachel McLish of the women’s bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron ll: The Women (1985). Scenes that recall bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno’s eponymous The Incredible Hulk of The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982) are a motif and are featured in the movie’s mind-boggling climax. 

In Love Lies Bleeding, Lou, Jackie, and their relationship are more subtle than the stereotypical butch/femme trope in a cinematic antecedent, Bound (1996) in which Corky (Gina Gershon) is a hardened, ex-con lesbian who wears wife beaters and black leather biker jackets and Violet is her foil in dresses that display her soft curves. They’re a considerable distance from each other on a controversial continuum in the LGBTQ community called  the Futch Scale, which shows a dichotomy between “High Femme” and “Stone Butch,” the ultra-feminine and the ultra-masculine. Some find the scale objectionable, because it can be used to classify someone practically by their style and to aid and abet labeling, without sensitivity or subtlety, a queer couple with traditional, hetrosexual roles. In Love Lies Bleeding, Lou’s undeniably on the butch side of the futch spectrum: she wears sleeveless muscle T-shirts and jeans, manages an austere bodybuilding gym, and drives a pickup truck. She’s the seducer. She’s on top. She discusses penetration with Jackie. Jackie is an ironic femme. She wears clothes that are unequivocally female, but she’s a bodybuilder and her physique isn’t soft and curvy, but hard and angular with a broad back and shoulders. Her show posing routine might be typically flirtatious, but her body can be an engine of violence.

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024): A Review
Anna Baryshnikov as Daisy in ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024). Image courtesy of A24

God Is In the Details 

The idiom “The devil is in the details” is more familiar than the earlier phrase it’s derived from, “God is in the details.” In Love Lies Bleeding, it’s the details in Rose Glass’s and Weronika Tofilska’s script and in Glass’s fantastic direction that bring their characters to life and foreshadow the plot. Daisy washes her pancakes and syrup down with a milkshake; she’s cloyingly sweet. The villain, Lou Sr. collects insects; he’s as cold-blooded and creepy as they are. He amuses himself with a distasteful Hercules larva named after the superhuman strongman of Roman mythology like he toys with bodybuilder Jackie later in the plot. Lou cleans a murder scene with the same grit she expressed earlier unclogging a toilet. Her hand in her pants and her book on her table, Macho Sluts (1988), a collection of lesbian romantic and erotic fiction, exposes her lust. Jackie’s character is formed by her reactions or lack of them. Her usual expression is stoic even while she’s mounted in the back seat of a car or taking a punch. She’s tough, even hardened, but she isn’t callous. She can become murderously violent or she can anxiously flee the aftermaths and repercussions of her insane actions. 

Acting and The Script: Emotional Range and Nuance

There’s a subtext of women’s survival in this script that can push the emotional range of its actors, but also requires nuance. Jena Malone who portrays Beth, Lou’s pathetic and abused sister, has made a career of taking on difficult domestic characters since her breakthrough role in Bastard Out of Carolina (1996). Beth is the definitive victimized wife, but her emotions run the gamut when vengeful rage erupts from her sobbing grief. Anna Baryshnikov’s Daisy isn’t too inane to intimate a steely threat when it’s to her advantage with a glint as she narrows her wide, blue eyes and a subtly harsh edge to girly voice. Kristen Stewart’s Lou is completely naturalistic. Her face, especially her eyes, emanate lust, love, and horror. By the end, it becomes painfully clear that Lou will literally do anything for the love of Jackie. Katy O’Brian is phenomenal as Jackie. She manages to create a character that is pathetic but a survivor, not weak, and incredibly sympathetic despite her horrible crimes. Beth’s and Daisy’s histrionics are foils to Jackie’s stoicism; it’s ironically her lack of reaction during vulnerable situations like sex and violence that’s important. Her one unambiguous joy is bodybuilding, and that seems on the verge of her body’s expression of violence. The most significant man in the plot, Ed Harris’s villain, Lou Sr., is the only one that isn’t a blatant misogynist; he’s a sadistic sociopath and all the villain that this film needs, but his stunted love for his daughter is discernible. In a moment where he asks Lou if she’s threatening him, he sounds more proud of her than offended. 

Director Rose Glass Sees Red

Rose Glass’s expressionistic direction of Jackie’s psychotic world can be horrifying or amazing, but in the end, it’s literally awesome. Jackie’s veins and muscles are shown and heard distending, bulging, and ripping in scenes that are graphic echoes of Dr. David Banner’s transformation into The Incredible Hulk. Glass’s visuals stutter, the audio speeds up manically or is distorted or muffled to create an impressionistic experience of Jackie’s psychosis, her distorted reality. Jackie’s hallucinations become fantastically surreal, culminating in the epically strange climax. In a film titled Love Lies Bleeding, of course Glass uses the color red, but she does so sparingly and effectively, like the phone Lou uses for a crucial call to Lou Sr. or as Lou literally sees red in a traumatic memory. 

The Moral of the Story? Love Hurts

Love Lies Bleeding is cinematically rich. This romance of two women spans genres, runs the gamut of emotions, and is made of an elaborate assemblage of details. It’s also a fable whose moral Jackie relates in a phone call: “Don’t ever fall in love, okay? It really hurts.” 

Love Lies Bleeding was produced by A24, Film 4, and Escape Plan Productions. It was released March 8, 2024. It is only available in theaters.

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024): A Review
Ed Harris as Lou Sr. in ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024). Image courtesy of A24

Love Lies Bleeding (2024) Official Reel Entertainment Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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James Keith La Croix has worked in and around the entertainment industry for years. He majored in film studies at Wayne State University and in Live Action Video at the College for Creative Studies. He wrote reviews, interviews, and features on cinema for the Detroit’s Metro Times.

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Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.