‘Love Lies Bleeding’ makes neon-hued magic

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 3/20/24

I somehow missed "Saint Maud," the 2019 debut film by writer-director Rose Glass, but after seeing "Love Lies Bleeding," which Glass directed and co-wrote with Weronika Tofilska, I'm definitely …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ makes neon-hued magic


I somehow missed "Saint Maud," the 2019 debut film by writer-director Rose Glass, but after seeing "Love Lies Bleeding," which Glass directed and co-wrote with Weronika Tofilska, I'm definitely checking out whatever she has to offer from this point forward.

"Love Lies Bleeding" is quite possibly an even more lesbian film than "Drive-Away Dolls," which I reviewed just a few weeks ago, but please note that this is in no way a criticism.

For a London-born gal whose lifespan entirely post-dates the 1980s, Glass demonstrates an uncanny knack for depicting not just an authentically American Eighties aesthetic, but specifically the all-too-often-overlooked greasy, nicotine-stained underside of the decade.

While the characters' references to "Die Hard" as a then-recent film, along with period newscast clips of the fall of the Iron Curtain, place this story squarely in 1989, its ragged mullets and shag carpets that have long outstayed their welcome hearken back to the earlier end of the Eighties, which started out as a dull hangover from the Seventies.

Indeed, Katy O'Brian's female bodybuilder character, Jackie, reflects how Arnold Schwarzenegger's quest for Herculean self-transformation in 1977's "Pumping Iron" was itself transformed into a vehicle for feminist self-improvement with the first "Jane Fonda's Workout" exercise video in 1982, leading to an aerobics trend that was captured in films such as Jamie Lee Curtis' "Perfect" in 1985.

O'Brian has quietly been making her mark in established sci-fi franchises ranging from "The Walking Dead" and "Power Rangers" to "Star Wars" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and her portrayal of the lonely, homeless, simmeringly driven Jackie is a revelation, not only because her rippling musculature qualifies as its own special effect, but also because her performance silently screams with her character's need to break through her chrysalis.

Fittingly for a noir film — and make no mistake, while it replaces the glossy sheen of 1981's "Thief" and 2011's "Drive" with visceral layers of grit and grime, "Love Lies Bleeding" belongs in the neon-lit corner of the noir genre — both Jackie and her newfound lover Louise, a.k.a. "Lou," are yearning to escape the traumas of the past that have defined them; Jackie as a former fat girl from small-town Oklahoma, and Lou as the daughter of a remorseless local crime lord (her father is amusingly also nicknamed "Lou").

Kristen Stewart plays daughter Lou as a dead-eyed dead-ender, stuck in the rut of managing a filthy gym where the overflowing toilet can only be unclogged by hand, looking after a drearily domesticated sister who refuses to leave the husband who abuses her, and nursing a cigarette addiction so hopelessly habitual that she lights up while listening to her soullessly narrated "stop smoking" cassette tapes.

Given their similarly desperate respective circumstances, it's totally understandable that Lou and Jackie fall almost instantly into a sweaty, messy, grasping romantic relationship, as Jackie prepares for a fast-approaching bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas, which is an overnight drive from the nameless American Southwestern town where this story is set.

Of course, since this is a noir film, characters daring to entertain hopeful dreams is merely the prelude for their pathological flaws to compound the misfortunes that befall them, since as Grant Morrison wrote in "The Filth" miniseries, "You can't run away from what you are … especially if what you are includes the legs you run with!"

Dave Franco is serviceably loathsome as daughter Lou's faithless brother-in-law (I'm reminded of standup comedian Greg Giraldo's roast line: "What did you do to prepare for that role, follow yourself around for a year?"), while Ed Harris goes above and beyond the call of thespian duty in bringing father Lou to life, with penchants for raising insects from larvae, aviator glasses that recall those worn by cult leader David Koresh, and a skullet last sported by Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Ironically enough, Harris manages to convey Lou's completely amoral and terrifying insanity by being the calmest, most clinically logical person in the room in 90% of the scenes we see him in.

It's not spoiling anything, in a film like this, to reveal beforehand that the misplaced dead bodies start multiplying in short order, sometime between the midpoint and the final act, but what I was struck by was — again, like "Thief" and "Drive" — how this film's immersive atmosphere entranced me so much that I was hooked even when nothing was actually happening yet.

I predict the story's fantastical conclusion will divide audiences, but for me, it felt like the magical realism of "Like Water For Chocolate," filtered through the sensibilities of Lisa Frank's Trapper Keeper artwork, in a good way.

Just as a minor advisory to viewers, remember how critics of 1993's "Philadelphia" took issue with the gay relationship between Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas' characters being too chaste and safe for all ages? Well, Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian don't play that way here, so depending upon your tastes, either stay away or have fun.