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REVIEW: “Love Lies Bleeding” puts queer romance in the limelight—and kills

Movie poster for “Love Lies Bleeding.” (Courtesy: A24)

Queer. Romance. Thriller. On their own, these three genres have powerful connotations and large audiences, each in their personal, private way. It’s not often that these three words are placed in the same sentence, and even less often that someone thinks to represent them in film. To those that have been waiting for a queer romance thriller to bless the silver screento usI present “Love Lies Bleeding” (2024), a cinematic behemoth written and directed by Rose Glass.

A film herculean in both production and visual motifs, “Love Lies Bleeding” follows a gym manager named Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian), an aspiring bodybuilder passing through on her way to a Las Vegas competition. After bonding over cigarettes and injections assumed to be steroids, runaway Jackie spends the night with Lou and decides to crash until her contest debut. While Jackie works at a gun range owned by Lou’s father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), to make money in the meantime, tensions rise between Lou and her sister Beth’s (Jena Malone) abusive husband, JJ (Dave Franco). Enough is enough when Beth lands in the hospital at the cruel hands of her husband, and though Lou has fantasized about murdering JJ countless times, it’s Jackiefueled by steroids, transfigured and derangedwho chooses to do something about it.

LOVE

Of course, the primary highlight of “Love Lies Bleeding” is its unabashedly sensual romance between lovers Lou and Jackie. Both Stewart and O’Brien give subtle performances with a range of emotional depth, all of which captivated the film’s eager audience beyond the screen. It’s difficult to pick a standout performance, though neither were competing for the frame; both Stewart and O’Brien work in tandem throughout the story, their characters pushing and pulling each other as both grow closer and make their own horrible mistakes.

I especially loved how the director treated this queer romance with respect, despite the thriller genre’s tendency to dwindle its cast to a weary few, or leave no survivors. Toward the start of their endeavor, Lou questions Jackie’s sexuality and whether or not she’s simply using intimacy to trade for a place to stay. It’s a valid worry for someone to have, and though Jackie proves her love throughout the film, this dilemma lingered with me as an audience member long after the question was asked. Addressing this issue that many members of the queer community face, and challenging the audience by portraying it on screen, is one of many compelling choices that “Love Lies Bleeding” makes.

From left to right, Jackie (Katy O’Brian) and Lou (Kristen Stewart)  from “Love Lies Bleeding.” (Courtesy: A24)

LIES

While the film’s romance is certainly a key plot point, one can’t capture the totality of “Love Lies Bleeding” without its violence. 

For anyone hoping to see the film, expect spoilers from here on out. 

One of the main sources of the film’s violence, and an important relationship portrayed in “Love Lies Bleeding,” is Lou’s prickly kinship with her father, Lou Sr. Harris’ Lou Sr. is a powerhouse of a player in this story; his menacing presence and mild affinity to strange bugs tells the audience everything we need to know: this is not a good guy. As the dismal events of the film unfold, Lou Sr. becomes a primary antagonist to both Lou and Jackie. He’s something like a mafia boss, only mentally unstable andspoiler warningwilling to kill his own daughter to clear his name. 

When JJ puts his wife and Lou’s sister, Beth, in the hospital, Jackie corners him in his home and leaves the abuser in a gory, pummeled messdead. Despite Jackie’s responsibility for the mess (though, one could blame the steroids dilating her muscles at an inhumane rate), it’s Lou who rolls JJ’s body in the living room rug and scrubs the floors and walls squeaky clean. Together, the couple drops JJ and his red Camaro into a fissured desert cavernthe film’s opening shotwhich is also filled with the unfortunate victims of Lou Sr.

BLEEDING

JJ’s untimely death and strategic disposal leads to a game of who will take the fall: Lou, Lou Sr., or JJ’s true killer, Jackie. After Lou’s former fling Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) spots Lou driving a dead JJ’s car into the desert, the pressure increases for both Lou and Jackie. Against Lou’s desperate command to lay low and hallucinating on bottles of steroids, Jackie makes her way to Las Vegas for her bodybuilding competition. This places Lou in a difficult positionone where she’s forced to spend time with Daisy to keep her from spilling the details.

Eventually, the film ends in a killer standoff with plenty of bleeding and one enormous woman. YesJackie’s reliance on steroids transforms her into a freaky giantess. It was at this point in the film that any semblance of theming and deeper meaning fled from the movie theater and left me in my comfy leather seat. I’m not sure why exactly Jackie grows to ten times her size, but I do know she saves the day, which is everything I needed.

“Love Lies Bleeding” is a lot of thingsa positive on-screen representation of queer love, a film full of naiveté and romance, a gritty crime thriller with a thin layer of redbut mainly, it’s a damn good movie. With outstanding performances and surprising cinematography, this love story will be one to remember long down the line.

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  • K

    KennedyApr 25, 2024 at 1:23 pm

    I had so much fun writing this article!!

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