Jackie and Lou sit together on the gym floor in Love Lies Bleeding.

Review: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Is a Violent Love Story—And So Much More

5/5 barbells

A film about a bodybuilder and a crime family might not strike you as an obvious vehicle for magical realism. But that’s only if you haven’t seen Rose Glass’ second feature film, Love Lies Bleeding.

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On its surface, Love Lies Bleeding, co-written by Glass and Weronika Tofilska, is the love story of two desperate young women. Lou (Kristen Stewart) is a moody gym manager trying to protect her sister Beth (Jena Malone) from her abusive husband (Dave Franco). Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is a bodybuilder who dreams of winning an upcoming competition in Las Vegas. When Lou and Jackie meet, they fall for each other hard, but Jackie soon gets sucked into the deadly world of Lou’s crime boss father. Plus, Jackie may be hiding a few secrets herself.

Love Lies Bleeding is much more than the romantic thriller it’s billed as, though. As Lou and Jackie navigate a vortex of crime, betrayal, and revenge, the story unravels layer after complicated layer of their characters and histories.

Stewart and O’Brian are electric as the star-crossed lovers, with Lou’s gruff facade playing off of Jackie’s optimism (and slow self-destruction). Despite the way she snaps at gym customers and blows off her lovesick friend Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), Lou is clearly driven by equal parts loyalty and regret. Jackie is a mesmerizing shapeshifter, transforming from vulnerable runaway to radiant performer and back again. Both Stewart and O’Brian put physicality at the center of their performances; Lou punches the air and chews on soda can tabs while Jackie practices her her bodybuilding routine on her lunch breaks. Those performances are sexy, yeah—and beautifully, unapologetically queer—but they’re also raw and authentic. It doesn’t take long for you to start rooting hard for these two kids, even when they’re driven to acts of abhorrent violence.

The setting of Love Lies Bleeding, which was filmed in New Mexico, is stark: Lou and Jackie eke out a low-wage existence in a land of shooting ranges, dumpy apartments, and makeshift beds under freeway overpasses. The film takes place in the 80s, with all its glitz and violent homophobia. Sometimes, the film edges toward a Requiem For a Dream level of bleakness, partly thanks to Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), a preternaturally creepy guy who’s fascinated by insects. Lou Sr. is so viscerally awful, and Harris’ portrayal of him so immersive, that he seems to infect the very landscape around him.

What saves the film from being too hard to watch, though, are the fantasy and horror elements that slowly emerge throughout the story. Lou and Jackie’s fears are as colossal as their hopes, and some subtle (and very unsubtle!) visual effects give form to those fears and hopes. Lou and Jackie are at an age where the promise of a better life shines through even when you think you’ve given up on it, and the film’s narrative accommodates that impossible wish.

Love Lies Bleeding is a story about love, but it isn’t just a romance. It’s an unsettling and exhilarating look at love itself, and the ways love can be warped and twisted in the service of violence. You may not have much faith in humanity after you see this movie, but you’ll believe in the power of young lovers.

Love Lies Bleeding comes out in theaters on Friday, March 8.

(featured image: A24)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>