Rose Glass already showcased her genre bonafides with her debut feature, Saint Maud, about an obsessive nurse walking a razor-thin line between faith and fanaticism. But lest anyone doubt her firm command of her craft, Glass is back with her sophomore effort, a steamy and sexy crime thriller that should cement her as one of the most exciting cinematic voices of the future. Premiering in the Midnight category at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival en route to a theatrical release from A24, Love Lies Bleeding is just the sort of intense, ultra-violent treat that genre audiences will adore.
Lou (Kristen Stewart) works a dead-end job at the only gym in her dusty Nevada town, chain-smoking her way through an existence that seems to consist solely of unclogging toilets (by hand) and fending off the advances of an all-too-eager suitor (Anna Baryshnikov). Lou would love nothing more than to hit the road in her pickup and drive off into the desert without so much as a glance in the rearview mirror, but she feels a certain amount of responsibility for her sister Beth (Jena Malone), trapped in an abusive marriage to JJ (Dave Franco with a mustache-and-mullet combo that amplifies his sleaziness to impressive heights); without Lou around, JJ might finally take the beatings too far, so she reluctantly stays nearby as a barely effective deterrent.
The arrival of immaculately sculpted Jackie (Katy O’Brian, an undeniable showstopper), drifting into town on her way to a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas, is the first event in ages that threatens to shake Lou from her complacency. She watches from the front desk as Jackie saunters through the gym, her muscular frame glistening with sweat under the fluorescent lights, and when they finally speak for the first time, the chemistry is instantaneous and electrifying. One sizzling sexual encounter later, Jackie has moved into Lou’s apartment and the two are hatching plans for a road trip to Jackie’s competition; eager to ingratiate herself with her new lover, Lou offers to supply Jackie with illegal steroids in order to give her an edge for the Las Vegas event, a gesture that will prove to have disastrous consequences in the coming weeks.
As Lou and Jackie leap headlong into the throes of unbridled passion, a series of choices — heartfelt in their intention, but dangerously stupid in their execution — will find them on the wrong side of the law, and even worse, on the wrong side of Lou’s estranged father (Ed Harris), a local crime kingpin with a lucrative gun-running operation. Jackie’s haphazard decision-making and Lou’s increasingly desperate attempts to un-fuck their situation make for some deliciously boiling tension in the film’s latter half, punctuated by shocking and savage acts of bloody violence.
Love Lies Bleeding could have been a straightforward thriller, but Glass has something far more ambitious in mind, blending the film’s neo-noir blueprint with elements of surrealism and body horror. She populates the film with a host of scummy and despicable characters — even her protagonists fall well short of virtuous — and deftly adds a sprinkle of pitch-black humor to the recipe, creating a unique vision of queer romance against the backdrop of a small town’s seedy criminal underworld. It’s a potent mix, and thanks to a superb cast that absolutely crushes their roles (Stewart and O’Brian are especially captivating), this violent, sexy (and violently sexy) film is a stunner.
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