Love Lies Bleeding

LOVE LIES BLEEDING is an unusually cool lesbian neo-noir from director Rose Glass (SAINT MAUD), who co-wrote it with Weronika Tofilska. It’s vaguely in the tradition of all my favorite dusty desert town crime movies, and the ones about passionate young couples on the run from bad choices or circumstances, but it has its own secret recipe of transgression, poetry and lovestruck naivete.

It comes at you with a wave of atmosphere, opening deep inside a chasm, rising up to look at the bright stars in the sky above New Mexico, then craning down to the Crater Gym, a big rectangular warehouse of sweat and dirt that might as well be a barn. It’s surprisingly active at night. High concentration of muscle heads in this barren town, I guess. Kristen Stewart (CRIMES OF THE FUTURE) stars as the manager of the gym, Lou, who’s introduced reaching deep into a plugged toilet. I had to do that working at a grocery store as a teenager, ‘cause I didn’t have a manager like Lou. Mine wouldn’t do it herself, she called the new kid and said, “Sorry to say, sug, the only thing to do is reach in there and pull it out.”

Even with this unglamorous entrance, Stewart continues her run as a Real Deal Movie Star, popping off the screen with her idealized mullet and sleeveless shirt, holding her head high for this literally shitty job, breaking up fights between jocks and fending off solicitations from someone she doesn’t seem that into (Anna Baryshnikov, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) who asks her out after the unplugging, before washing her hands. Lou would rather go home to her cat. But then she meets someone better.

Jackie (Katy O’Brian, Z Nation) is an aspiring competitive bodybuilder hitchhiking through from Oklahoma. Her version of unplugging toilets is getting fucked in the back of a Camaro by some sleaze who promises he’ll recommend her for a job at the gun range. Soon we learn that this guy is Lou’s shitty brother-in-law J.J. (Dave Franco, DAY SHIFT), married to her sister Beth (Jena Malone, FOR LOVE OF THE GAME). J.J.’s mustache makes him look like Burt Reynolds, so they also give him a rat tail, to make sure he’s not too charming.

After that somewhat degrading first impression we see Jackie wake up to a beautiful morning, brush her teeth and do pull ups on the overpass she slept under. An iconic image worthy of Nada from THEY LIVE or Chance from HARD TARGET. Also reminds me of Channing Tatum training on the subway in FIGHTING. Good shit. As you can see in the picture here, Jackie is not just Sarah Connor buff, she’s closer to Rachel McLish in ACES: IRON EAGLE III. O’Brian bulked up with a trainer the way the dudes in Marvel movies do, and has experience in competitive bodybuilding, so she knew what she was doing.

She does get the job waitressing at the gun range, only later learning that her creepy boss is Lou’s dad, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris, GEOSTORM), who our Lou doesn’t speak to. She won’t say why, but we get the idea he’s running guns into Mexico, kills lots of people in the process, gets away with it because he has at least one cop on the payroll. Maybe it’s something to do with that.

We can tell by the cassette players that this is a period piece, not just a place where acid wash is still popular. A reference to DIE HARD puts us around ’89, I think. The electronic score by Clint Mansell (PI, SMOKIN’ ACES, BLOOD THE LAST VAMPIRE) sometimes reminds me of Tangerine Dream, and therefore of NEAR DARK as they drive down lonely desert roads at night. Other movies that popped into my head at times: BLOOD SIMPLE, RED ROCK WEST, LOST HIGHWAY, WILD AT HEART, PERDITA DURANGO. But the one time the filmatism feels like a straight up ‘80s movie is when a song kicks in while Jackie lifts weights at the gym – feels like a training montage and a throwback to the fitness craze that gave us everything from PERFECT to THE TOXIC AVENGER.

Lou can’t take her eyes off of Jackie. They end up sharing a cigarette in the parking lot after close, then spending the night together. Happily it’s a mainstream movie about gay people where bigotry isn’t really a factor, despite the era and the setting. They get to just be romantic and sexy with each other. But they’ll have plenty of dark shit to worry about soon enough, and the seed of their troubles is planted that first night when Lou tries to impress Jackie by giving her some of the steroids the guys at the gym use. Jackie actually hadn’t used them before, but decides to try. Later an ugly situation and confluence of love and roid rage will drag them into a whirlpool of violence and increasingly desperate coverups, centered around that ravine the movie started in. As a drone shot takes us above to look down at the police cars driving along the narrow, vertical opening in the earth I thought hmm, reminds me of something, maybe a part of the anatomy, I’m not quite sure. Difficult to be sure.

Overall it’s not as deranged as some of the movies I mentioned above – compared to WILD AT HEART and PERDITA DURANGO it’s very down to earth and reasonable – but obviously the novelty of the “muscle chick” heroine gives it personality, and Glass also pushes some boundaries in her depictions of lesbian sexuality. (I read that she had the cast watch CRASH and SHOWGIRLS as prep, for what that’s worth.) There are also some memorable spurts of graphic brutality and some sprinklings of outrageous absurdity that make my heart sing. In Glass’s first movie SAINT MAUD (which I watched recently and will review tomorrow) the story comes untethered from reality after a while, but you know it’s the protagonist’s delusional point-of-view of what’s happening. Here Glass eventually says fuck it and lets us all share the same hallucination. I had a nagging feeling that a certain fraction of the laughter at my screening might not have been appreciative, but maybe I was wrong – I continue to hear almost exclusively raves, so many people seem to be tuned to its frequency. 

Glass is English, and I took this as her impressionistic portrait of America: muscles, guns, pickup trucks, deserts, trips to Vegas. Sure enough, she told The Hollywood Reporter that she had this female bodybuilder idea and considered setting it in Scotland, but “When you have so many muscles and guns going in there, the film, the characters, the story have a bit more to say of relevance in an American setting. And with the casualness of firearms, I still find that extraordinary going to America. I went to L.A. when SAINT MAUD was doing festivals, and that was the first time I’ve really been to America. If you’re not from there, it does have this weird mythological kind of feel to it. Everything just feels familiar, even though you’ve never seen it before.”

That’s what this is, it’s mythic. And poetic. It’s dark and tragic but seems optimistic. If you ignore all the murder it’s a happy ending. It’s romantic, she gets the girl. (Both girls do.) Jackie doesn’t really do much to redeem herself for her mistakes, but Lou and the movie forgive her anyway.

The most amazing thing about LOVE LIES BLEEDING is that Katy O’Brian exists to star in it. Turns out I’d seen her in The Mandalorian and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. I should’ve recognized her, of course that’s her, but the muscles and the long hair threw me off. It’s easy to imagine the less impressive version of this where they hire somebody with the build but not the screen presence, or (more likely) get a known actress to work out and she gets ripped compared to usual but not like this. Like Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie in PAIN & GAIN, in good shape but not seeming like peers to The Rock. We don’t need to suspend our disbelief that way here because they found this amazing person who looks like she really might win the competition she’s entering, and also has big, loving eyes and a wholesome, innocent smile. A cinematic miracle.

And Jackie is a great character. A dreamer, a perfect innocent. She came from somewhere unhappy, transformed herself into what she wanted to be, doesn’t mind being different, doesn’t need much, believes in love, doesn’t like guns. She’s corrupted by the gym’s steroids and by Lou Sr. teaching her how to shoot, and both lead to disaster. But love conquers all, we hope. If not I still loved this movie.

* * *

P.S. I was surprised to learn from IMDb that there are movies called LOVE LIES BLEEDING from 1999, 2006, 2008, and 2012. This is the one from 2024.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 18th, 2024 at 7:12 am and is filed under Reviews, Crime. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “Love Lies Bleeding”

  1. I left the theater liking this, but the power of the imagery really grew on me. This was an incredible movie. I read that some asshole was cracking on the poor box office by repeating the idea that Hollywood doesn’t know what people really want to see. But this movie has everything. Gunfights. Workout montages. Puke. Magical realism. Ed Harris as the Cryptkeeper. And that bouncing jawbone! What a cool, underrated effect. It’s one of those movies that’s dirty and grimy and it feels like you have it under your fingernails now, or it’s stuck in your hair.

    I’m glad you singled out Katy O’Brien for being this ideal physical specimen for this movie. She’s pretty, feminine, charismatic, imposing, and super muscular, and who else in Hollywood can pull that off? Once you got to that INSANE ending (worth the price of admission, people), you realize this movie isn’t a movie with someone else in that role, you could never convince anyone to bulk up for this and they’d never be able to do it convincingly. I wish we expanded the way we talk about “performance”, as we tend to limit it to emotional expression. It should be taken into account how visually pleasing a performance is. And I’m not talking about sexual attraction but rather how the camera pours over her musculature, and how her altered physique plays a role in the storytelling. The idea that we value this sort of stuff less than someone wearing a prosthetic nose who lost weight on an Atkins Diet is insane to me.

  2. Looking forward to seeing this movie. For anyone interested (crickets) Kristen Stewart had a great appearance on Colbert last week.

  3. I really liked this, but it has been bubbling in my brain since Saturday and I might love it on rewatch. I was surprised to see Katy O’Brian is 35 years old (I thought she looked younger), apparently she did bodybuilding (quit because she didn’t want to do steroids, ironically), personal training, and law enforcement/crisis management before her acting career took off. She has also studied martial arts since she was 5 years old, and has taught Hapkido and studied Muay Thai and Brazilian Jui Jitsu… somebody write this woman an action vehicle immediately!

    As this is an action focused community, I will warn that despite all the guns and muscles in the trailer this is much more in the crime/noir vein of violence. There are beatings, not fights, and shootings, not shoot outs. But there is still some satisfyingly gnarly violence. Shout out to the sound design, the squelchy noises of a certain corpse flopping around were disgustingly hilarious, and the sound accompanying close ups of throbbing veins and muscles really added to the body horror.


    Vern, I thought we got hints that Jackie was not a “perfect innocent.” At first, I assumed her mother calling her a monster during her brief phone call home was just small-town bigotry because she was a lesbian/bodybuilder/atypical. But as you pointed out, that level of hate and judgement of queerness is not really present in the rest of the movie. Then when Jackie meets up with Lou later, she says “I kill people.” Technically we have seen her kill two people by then, but the fact that it is plural AND present tense made me think she has killed someone before that, and knows she is capable of killing again. I thought the movie portrayed a cast of characters where no one is truly an innocent or evil. The flashbacks/nightmares and Lou’s mom leaving indicate Lou killed for her dad before cutting ties with him and resigning herself to the gym. And the bit where Lou hurts her battered sister to find Jackie shows that darkness and violence is still in her. Lou Sr. is a murderous gun runner, but does seem to genuinely love his family and try to protect them (even if it involves framing their lover). Even JJ, who is a philandering wife-beater with a rat tail, gets just a little nuance to his scumbaggery when we find out that he was working with the FBI as an informant. Daisy seems like a dumb, naive puppy dog (with meth teeth) following Lou around, but then she cannily tries to blackmail Lou into a relationship.
    I will definitely watch this again at home to see if there are any more hints about Jackie that support my reading. Also, the theater projector was dim, and this movie is already dark as hell so it would be great not to strain my eyes trying to watch it (maybe that’s why I didn’t think the sex scenes were very graphic?)

    full review: https://letterboxd.com/toomanymovies/film/love-lies-bleeding-2024/

  4. Good observations Adam, you may have something there. I’ll definitely keep an eye out on repeat views. (p.s. I don’t think the sex scenes are graphic, they’re just a little freaky and more lesbian than people are accustomed to.)

  5. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    March 19th, 2024 at 7:30 pm

    Background radio or TV mentions the fall of the Berlin Wall, which would place this right about November 9th, 1989. Which raises the question of some sort of end-of-the-80s meaning going on. And I may be wrong, but I kind of thought that Lou’s father taught Jackie to shoot, out there on the gun range pressing his hips into her ass- guns are the weapons of the patriarchy is how I took it. But was there another scene of Lou teaching her too?

    I really liked this. I had my reservations about the ending, but even a few hours later I’m deciding it’s just me overthinking.

  6. I’m mostly unreservedly positive on this. It does a good job depicting somewhat objectively trash human beings and showing them as still worthy of love and happiness and improvement… maybe. They might be horrible, screwed-up people but they at least have someone who cares about them; does that beat being a good person who’s all alone?

    *mild spoilers*

    I did think it was contrived that the unhinged gunrunner crime lord is letting some random douche get away with beating his daughter. I know the movie implies that he would’ve taken care of it if other events hadn’t intervened, but we’re introduced to Beth with a broken arm and a black eye, so it was hard for me to believe that wasn’t enough to set Langston off.

    @Adam Jackie also punches a guy full-force in the face for touching her arm before the roid rage even kicks in.

  7. Sorry Inspector, I meant Lou Sr. when I said Lou teaching her to shoot. I took it the same as you did. I have fixed it to be less confusing, thanks for noting that.

  8. I thought once or twice during this movie “man I can’t wait until Vern sees this.” It feels like an instant classic in The Films of Bad-Ass Filmatism. But I don’t know how optimistic it feels to me, and that’s actually part of what I really like about it.

    Now I think this movie would be overly sadistic if Jackie and Lou didn’t end up together or find some way to protect each other. Like, of course you want them to end up together. They’re sexy, they’ve got chemistry, but what above all, what other option do they really have? One of the things that I find the coolest about this movie and its vision of a Queer Noir is that this it’s built around a really authentic-feeling gay relationship that is, for lack of a better word, sorta toxic. It’s a classic sort of codependency that is formed out of two queer people whose only refuge from this hostile world is one another, and disappear into this increasingly insular world they form together, leaving everything outside of it burning to the ground. They tear each others’ lives apart! They are, sometimes literally, poisonous for each other! The (ingeniously surreal) ending paints this picture of a dream (or a delusion) that they both buy into, that they’re both big and strong and indestructible, and that the world they’ll run away into is this heightened universe of bi lighting and sparkly clouds. It’s a beautiful fantasy– who wouldn’t want that for these two? Who doesn’t want that for themselves? Being in love feels like that! But their love story is built on shaky foundations, on shared trauma, and feels ambiguously ill-fated.

    But I like that this isn’t a moral lesson about bad relationships and difficult women who must pay for their crimes. Maybe that’s what sells it at a noir, that in this nasty world, this dangerous, messy love is the best thing they’ve got, the safest place they can be. Even the honeymoon period looks like slimy egg yolks getting dumped in the trashcan, soaking into emptied ash trey contents. For whatever reason, that’s actually sort of a breath of fresh air to me. This isn’t a feel-good, reassuring Hulu ad. It’s a real thriller, that really hurts. But it hurts really fucking good.

  9. Ed Harris in this is hair goals.

  10. @Kaplan- yes! that punch is another thing that’s easy enough to write off in the moment, but taken along with everything else could be another sign that she has A History of Violence ™

    more spoiler stuff below

    @PJ Audenzia – “The (ingeniously surreal) ending paints this picture of a dream (or a delusion) that they both buy into, that they’re both big and strong and indestructible, and that the world they’ll run away into is this heightened universe of bi lighting and sparkly clouds. It’s a beautiful fantasy– who wouldn’t want that for these two? Who doesn’t want that for themselves? Being in love feels like that! But their love story is built on shaky foundations, on shared trauma, and feels ambiguously ill-fated.”

    Thank you, your observations here helped some of my thoughts around the ending coagulate. Not just that surreal moment, but your interpretation also helps explain the ACTUAL final scene. After that hazy, romantic dream/delusion we are thrust back into dingy reality, which Lou (and the audience) immediately has to confront as she chokes the life out of Daisy and prepares to bury her. We are happy Lou and Jackie survived, and hopeful for their love, but we are reminded one last time that this love has a body count and that they are both capable of awful things.

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