Love Lies Bleeding new movies March

Love Lies Bleeding is a lesbian film noir balancing dread and desire

3.5 out of 5 stars

With her debut feature, Saint Maud, Rose Glass painted a deeply unsettling portrait of shame, longing and violence. The movie centred on a young woman, gripped with religious ecstasy, who sought revenge against her bodily pleasure through self-flagellation that eventually turned outward in a bid to punish a former boss she now imagined was evil incarnate. 

Glass follows up that film with a movie that shares the audacity and sensuality of Saint Maud without the tropes of horror. Love Lies Bleeding is more film noir than anything else; it’s a crime revenge thriller rooted in family conspiracies and unchecked lust. Set in small-town America, Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a beautiful drifter, wanders into town. She’s following her dream, hitching her way toward Las Vegas, where she hopes to compete in a bodybuilding competition. At a bare-bones warehouse gym, she catches the eye of the manager, Lou (Kristen Stewart). 

The film unfolds in small bursts of energy and violence. Lou is tethered to a town she hates to protect her sister, who is trapped in an abusive relationship. Lou no longer speaks to her father, the owner of a gun range with an insect collection. She spends her days unclogging toilets and hiding from her overly anxious admirer, Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov). She eats TV dinners and masturbates. Lou is tired. Jackie wakes her up. 

Love Lies Bleeding has many twists and turns. It’s less about the mystery than the atmosphere of dread and despair. Jackie’s strength is alluring but unpredictable. The uncertainty of her backstory lends undeniable tension to the film but eventually feels a little too undefined. She’s reactive and has an unpredictability rooted in her failure to think things through. Early on, this reads as a kind of adolescent innocence (one that is motivated by both need and pleasure) as she falls down a pathway of performance-enhancing drugs, the violence that pours out of her feels increasingly harder to pin down, even confusing as we hear her speak on the phone with the family she ran away from.

Love Lies Bleeding review film movie
Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding

The movie isn’t just a pure crime thriller, though, and features fleeting moments of magical realism. Jackie’s rippling physique is rendered as both monstrous and apollonian; like Popeye swallowing a can of spinach, there are moments where her body stretches and pulses like taunt leather. As seen through Lou’s eyes, Jackie is a towering pillar of femininity, an electric shock of sexual inspiration. The movie quivers with a sensuality that seems impossible to contain. 

It’s unfortunate, though, that not everything comes together. The various threads of motivation and storytelling occasionally get confused. Jackie, in particular, feels under and overdeveloped. She’d stand up better as a more archetypical presence, like a femme fatale or a fully-fledged human being. For now, she straddles both; Katy O’Brian’s performance can only do so much to pull the character from the trenches. The film loses steam in its second half, struggling to balance the elements of magical realism with increasingly complex plot points that don’t always coalesce. 

Yet, this is a rare case where the flaws emerge from the film’s strength: Rose Glass takes risks, most work, and some don’t. With just two feature films, both compelling and singular though flawed, she’s demonstrated an ability to imagine new ways of telling stories, drawing us into unconventional feminine subjectivities with mostly good results. The film is gratifying in its audacious presentation of desire and invites the viewer into an atmosphere of a noirish vision of the world. 

On the question of what Love Lies Bleeding, the film tackles notions of romantic and platonic love. It’s sensuality is linked to the film’s ability to draw us into a world of deep vulnerability, rooted in misplaced shame and loss. In a world filled with unexpected cruelty and irrational violence, how do we keep on going? The imperfect love story of Lou and Jackie offers an entangled, often complex way of navigating despair. ■

Love Lies Bleeding (directed by Rose Glass)

Love Lies Bleeding is now playing in Montreal theatres.

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