‘Love Lies Bleeding’ review: Kristen Stewart headlines gnarly masterpiece from Mashable

There are movies that grab you by the throat. There are movies that punch you in the gut. Love Lies Bleeding is both, and I fucking love it. 

From the mind of Rose Glass, writer/director of the 2020 stunner Saint Maud, comes a queer romance that’s as packed with thrills as it is with raw sensuality and dazzling star power. Come for Kristen Stewart sporting a DIY mullet and a dirty mouth. Come for Katy O’Brian (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘s scene-stealing warrior princess Jentorra) flexing not only her muscles but her range as a beguiling bodybuilder with a perm as big as her dreams. Come for Ed Harris and Dave Franco in roles both comedic and nerve-rattling. But come. 

Love Lies Bleeding is a gnarly masterpiece, and you’re gonna want to see it on a big screen with the best sound system possible. 

What is Love Lies Bleeding about?

Credit: A24

Set in 1980s New Mexico, Love Lies Bleeding centers on the kismet romance of Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian) The two cross paths at a grimy garage gym, the kind where the stink of sweat will never leave the cinderblock walls and cement floor. Handmade signs boast proclamations that “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” and “If you believe it, your body can achieve it.”

Stewart, who has dazzled on countless red carpets, begins the film elbow-deep in an overloaded toilet. Lou runs the gym, everything from checking in members to closing at night and cleaning the can. In a rundown town, she willingly lives on the fringe, not because she is queer but because she’s had a brutal falling-out with her father, local kingpin Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). 

Jackie swans into town as if she’s never had a bad day, her smile radiant, her hair bouncy, her muscles glorious. She knows she’s a bombshell, and she relishes the attention from gym rats, sketchy would-be employers, and the surly “grade-A dyke” who runs the gym. After a shared glance, and then a shared cigarette, Lou and Jackie rush headlong into sharing more and more of themselves — their bodies, their dreams, and eventually their secrets. Jackie dreams of dominating a bodybuilding competition in Vegas that could change her life for the better. Lou dreams of a world where she doesn’t have to fear for her sister Beth (Jena Malone), who is the devoted punching bag of her abusive husband JJ (Dave Franco).

Their path to these dreams is one thick with violence, impulse, and regret. But the only way out is through. And so in an attempt to save them both from retribution, they must believe in each other and achieve more than they could ever imagine.

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian are mesmerizing together.

Credit: A24

Stewart, who was a child actor in adult fare like The Safety of Objects and Panic Room, found mainstream success via the Twilight franchise, but she’s effortlessly swung between arty indies (Personal Shopper, Spencer, Love Me) and glossy studio flicks (Underwater, Happiest Season) throughout her career. In her latest, she wears a sneer of a haircut and a sulking disposition, spitting insults at a world that’s only treated her badly. But the moment she and O’Brian share a frame, there’s a kinetic transformation, a spark in her eyes reflected in her co-star’s. Together, their chemistry is electrifying.

Love Lies Bleeding doesn’t shy away from sex. Far from the glossy nonsense that plays to straight male fantasies, their fucking is raw, passionate, even clumsy. Close-ups of hands groping flesh and tearing away panties, dirty talk with lips bitten in response. These smoking hot scenes of sapphic love scoff at the tedious online outrage about sex and cinema. Sure, these scenes are titillating. But more than that, they exhibit the ravenousness of these misfits — their need for a connection to someone who really sees them. And they see each other with a definitely female gaze that recognizes warts and all. Or in this case, much blood, sweat, tears, and goop. 

Love isn’t easy here. Melodrama flares up with both characters, grabbing on with a ruthless grip that makes every moment exhilarating. Who needs cardio or therapy when Rose Glass is making movies?

Visceral visual splendor and aural horror. 

Credit: A24

Glass doesn’t waste a frame while building her heady aesthetic. Love Lies Bleeding opens at the bottom of a deep canyon, lit red as fresh blood and looking up at a dark blue, star-studded sky. This proves a sign of what’s to come; the same red hue colors flashbacks to a horrid memory. The stars twinkle like the light in Jackie’s eyes or the sequins on her competition bikini. A town caked in dirt, Jackie stands out in her pink and shimmery gym gear. Though built to take on any fight, she is a naive innocent in the seamy underbelly of Lou’s family. 

The sound effects ripple with sounds of squelching and tearing. The wet amid the desert underlines the catastrophic collision of hard muscles and fragile emotions. Sometimes these squishing sounds give an expressive oomph to a moment of dramatic tension or to a physical transformation. Sometimes it’s a gut-churning sound of violence to drive an offscreen blow right to the bone. Saint Maud also boasted a bold and unnerving soundscape and blood-curdling violence. Love Lies Bleeding proves its spiritual sister, not only in disturbing jolts but also in its ardent leap of faith. 

Love Lies Bleeding is a hopeless romantics’ tale turned toxic. 

Credit: A24

To follow a stranger home. To move in after one night together. To take on the powers that be. To dream of running away together. Every step of their love is a leap of faith. Though the film stretches into elements of the fantastical, Glass won’t let the audience escape the grisly labyrinth of bloody sacrifices made in the name of love. 

Here’s where supporting players lend a helping (or hurting) hand. Franco’s breezy charm curdles beneath a stringy mullet and uncool dad mustache. Malone’s signature sassiness is erased with a dopey broad smile, accented by a split lip and quivering stare. Playing a lovelorn local who’d die for Lou, Anna Baryshnikov (Dickinson) has the air of ’60s-era Goldie Hawn on meth — sweet yet savage. Then there’s the intoxicating horror of Harris’s perturbing patriarch. 

With a long, thinning, gray crescent of hair, he instantly strikes an air of an aging tyrant holding onto flourishes that no longer suit him. Surrounded by bug terrariums and many, many guns, he’s an eccentric figure who exudes menace to his underlings, speaking in a low, impatient growl or firing a shot by their heads if he catches them loafing. But in scenes with his daughters, the growl softens — even in the face of Lou’s hate. And in this softness, he alludes to a long and complicated relationship, one where cruelty and commendations came with equal intensity. This makes his every syllable one to hang on. Because we, like Lou, know that at any moment the flip my switch. 

In every relationship within Love Lies Bleeding, Glass gives a sense of good and bad, daring audiences to find the line when enough is too much. 

Love Lies Bleeding is a must-see — full-stop.  

Credit: A24

Incredibly among the life-or-death drama, lusty romance, and pulpy action, Love Lies Bleeding is wickedly funny. A moment of carefully planted levity here or lunacy there encourages the audience to revel amid moments of revulsion, reminding us of the couple’s dizzying newlywed phase even in their darkest moments.

Weaving together tones this different with such grace, Glass is a marvel. Despite its provocative sex scenes and horrific violence, the most outrageous thing about Love Lies Bleeding might be that it’s only her second film. Her confidence and trust in the audience would be laudable even if the film didn’t work as well as it does. And it works so hard, the audiences leaves out of breath. 

By giving us leading ladies this enchanting, she makes it impossible not to root for Lou and Jackie, but she doesn’t let us off the hook for falling for them. Instead, she delivers an ending that is fearless, fun, and unforgettable. As harrowing as it is tender, as horny as it is horrifying, Love Lies Bleeding is one of the best films of 2024. 

Love Lies Bleeding opens in limited theatrical release March 8, then expands nationwide March 15.

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