Love Lies Bleeding Has the Juice

Jackie (Katy O'Brian) and Lou (Kristen Stewart) in Love Lies Bleeding. Photos Courtesy of A24.

When you go into a Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, or David Fincher film, you have a general sense of what the movie will be like. This isn’t a bad thing (and these filmmakers have shown the ability to surprise us in their own ways), but rather an observation of that generation of directors. The emerging roster of millennial to older millennial directors—Jordan Peele, Damien Chazelle, Greta Gerwig, Brandon Cronenberg—take inspiration from older generations, but their respective filmographies are unique, diverse, and ingenious. 

Take Peele as an example. Get Out is a social horror-comedy which he then follows up with Us, more of an action horror, and his latest, Nope, is an all-out modern Western. Gerwig emerged on the screen with the indie dramedy Lady Bird, then a big studio adaptation of Little Women, and, most recently, the biggest film of 2023, Barbie. These directors exhibit a personal flair found in all their films, but their execution and ideas remain different and innovative. Rose Glass is another director in this class but isn’t brought up with the other gigantic names. Her first movie, Saint Maud, was acclaimed but was a 2020 release, caught up in the mess of COVID. I hope she becomes more of a household name because her sophomore feature, the awesome and brutal Love Lies Bleeding, is an absolute blast and has me buying all the Glass stock I can.

Lou squats in front of her front door in fear, covered in blood in Love Lies Bleeding.
Kristen Stewart is amazing as Lou in Love Lies Bleeding. Photos Courtesy of A24.

Set in the 1980s, Lou (Kristen Stewart) runs a gym and falls for aspiring bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian). As the two fall in love and get swole using steroids, Jackie knocks horns with Lou’s crime family, spearheaded by Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). Things turn passionately violent and both Lou and Jackie find themselves on the run from Lou Sr.

Working within this dangerous genre, Love Lies Bleeding is a starkly different movie. Here, Rose Glass makes her version of a neo-noir, an incredibly hard genre to master. In a neo-noir, you need captivating leads that can sell the slow yet propulsive narrative. Glass can nail both those factors, specifically the pacing of the movie. 

Love Lies Bleeding takes its time establishing the core of the story: Lou and Jackie’s love story. With any neo-noir, you have to effectively set up the world and characters at a patient pace and, simultaneously, build up the tension of the impending conflict. We are exposed to the ‘roided up vibe of ‘80s bodybuilding culture. Everyone has muscles on top of muscles, slathered in baby oil, and competing to be the best. Bodybuilders are passionate people and Rose Glass uses this to make the audience invested in Lou and Jackie. Their love is sensual, romantic, quirky, and intense. The chemistry is palpable between the lead actors, both of whom disappear into their roles. However, it’s not all peaches and roses for Lou and Jackie, as Lou Sr. is lurking in the background.

Lou uses a weight machine as her muscles are on display and she is listening to music in Love Lies Bleeding
Katy O’Brian is a name to watch going forward from Love Lies Bleeding. Photos Courtesy of A24.

Rose Glass masterfully intertwines the danger and threat of Lou’s family with the ongoing love story, adding heft and stakes to the narrative. The pace rapidly picks up in the second half once bodies begin to pile up and our two lovers find themselves escaping Lou Sr. Just like in the romance between Lou and Jackie, Glass does not shy away from being graphic in the violence. This is a bloody movie. Each punch has a hefty toll—broken teeth, limbs, what have you. The film has a darkly comic tone to its over-the-top action, but the director walks the fine line between parody and self-seriousness with finesse. 

In fact, Rose Glass balances a variety of tones with ease and it all meshes well. Love Lies Bleeding is funny, romantic, sad, and surreal, and you never once feel whiplash from the shifting tones. That being said, the one thing I struggled with was when Glass ventured into surrealism, especially in the ending. I didn’t mind the small flourishes of absurdity and horror, but the swing-for-the-fences ending (a truly admirable attempt) felt misplaced and I would’ve preferred a more grounded and, perhaps, bleaker ending. However, I will always like a movie more when a director takes chances rather than playing it safe, and Glass is someone who isn’t afraid to make bold decisions. 

Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), smoking a cigarette, aims his gun in the distance and is about to shoot in Love Lies Bleeding
Ed Harris steals the show as Lou’s father in Love Lies Bleeding. Photos Courtesy of A24.

Two things that always work throughout Love Lies Bleeding are the central performances of Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian. By now, everyone knows Stewart is one of the most talented actresses working and is far from being just the girl from Twilight. She excels in the serious and romantic scenes—as we’ve seen her in recent times—but I found her comedic timing and reactions to be quite funny. I never thought of Stewart as someone who can convincingly do comedy, but I’d love her to explore her funny side more. O’Brian is a revelation in a breakthrough role. Not only is she confident and comfortable as an actor, but her extremely muscular build serves as a special effect, akin to Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. I’m excited to see what O’Brian does next and hope it’s as intriguing and bold as this feature.

Harris is having the time of his life playing the insect-eating, villainous father and is donning a ridiculous wig that I could not get enough of. He is quite menacing in this role, almost like an evil(er) version of his Truman Show character. The one casting choice that doesn’t work is Dave Franco as Lou’s abusive brother-in-law. He doesn’t have much screen time, but I felt he’s miscast as a dirtbag. 

Even if all the choices Rose Glass makes in Love Lies Bleeding don’t work, I left this movie incredibly excited about this new crop of filmmakers. We’ve seen and have lauded what Peele, Gerwig, and Chazelle can do with big scales, but we need to do the same for Glass. Her sophomore feature is ferocious, fierce, and daring and I know everything she does going forward will be that and much more. This is a gnarly film and missing it would be a total sucker punch. 

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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