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Kristen Stewart in LOVE LIES BLEEDING

(The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18-28. Check out Matt Delman’s movie review of Love Lies Bleeding. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Watching the new 80’s midnight movie Love Lies Bleeding one gets the feeling that Kristen Stewart has never felt more comfortable in a character’s skin. Sporting a boyish mullet, she plays Lou, the manager of a gym and daughter of a gun-runner played by Ed Harris. Her eyes light up when she spots Jackie, played by Katy O’Brian (discovered in a casting call), an aspiring bodybuilder and absolute force of nature. The audience similarly can’t take their eyes off her, her screen presence palpable from the very first scene. These two fall for each other instantly, and the sexual energy is indisputably off the charts, no matter your personal orientation. As the title suggests, a series of violent events catapult them into a steroid-fueled fever dream. Director Rose Glass (Saint Maud) pushes the boundaries with stylistic panache that could be best described as ‘bonkers’, but not in a silly way. The end result is a pulse-pounding thriller anchored by a genuine romance. 

While Lou is admiring Jackie’s muscles, she’s surprised when Jackie tells her she is ‘au natural’ aka no performance-enhancing drugs. Lou tempts her with a free shot of steroids, something Jackie can’t afford on her own. Just a taste of this drug gets her hooked, and a montage of them shooting up and having gloriously uninhibited sex launches this adrenaline-fueled love story. Conflict arises when Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is beaten up by her abusive husband (Dave Franco) and ends up in the hospital. Jackie sees the pain in Lou’s eyes and impulsively takes matters into her own hands.

Glass uses visual effects to render Jackie’s she-hulking, with muscles and veins bulging in response to external stimuli. She also frequently cuts to a flashback/nightmare in which Lou and her father are disposing of some unwanted manpower. These scenes quicken the pace and make for a frenetic edit. Ed Harris is perfectly cast as a mean patriarch and beetle-munching gangster. A third woman named Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) who is clearly smitten with Lou, witnesses the two other women on their way to dispose of a body. Wrong place, wrong time. Her ditzy character raises the stakes, which sets up a gratifying third-act surprise. The entire cast is superb, and it’s easy to see why they all signed onto Glass and co-writer Weronika Tofilska’s excellent script.

Everything is working in service of Lou and Jackie’s explosive relationship, which can best be described as a rollercoaster that goes off the rails. The larger-than-life ending is inspired, though its fantastical elements may lose some people–those people are fucking lame. At this point, you just gotta go with it. Kristen Stewart is in top form, but the breakout star is Katy O’Brian who bursts onto the scene after a smattering of small roles in big productions such as The Mandalorian and Ant-Man. In Love Lies Bleeding, she really gets to eat, and what a meal of a film it is.

Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

2024 Sundance Film Festival; Rose Glass; Love Lies Bleeding

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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