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Nathan Weinbender reviews "Love Lies Bleeding"

Film still of Kristen Stewart as Lou in Love Lies Bleeding (2024).
Love Lies Bleeding, Escape Plan/Film4/Lobo Films/A24, 2024.
Film still of Kristen Stewart as Lou in Love Lies Bleeding (2024).


It’s a typical noir setup. An interloper with a shadowy past hitches a ride into a sleepy border town, starts up an affair with one of the locals (whose past is similarly shrouded in mystery), and pretty soon they’re in over their heads in a scheme involving money and drugs and murder. In the case of Love Lies Bleeding, the mysterious stranger is a bodybuilder with stars in her eyes, and the woman she loves appears meek but has a violent instinct.

The film is set in 1989 in a flyspeck of a New Mexico town. The despondent Lou (Kristen Stewart) has never left. She works behind the check-in desk of a gym where the motivational posters on the wall practically taunt her. One night, she catches the eye of the new girl in town, Jackie (Katy O’Brian), who doesn’t have a place to stay and is training for a bodybuilding competition in Vegas. They immediately fall into bed together, and Lou starts pocketing steroids from other gym rats so Jackie can, uh, expedite her workouts.

Jackie gets a job at the bar attached to a shooting range, which just so happens to be a front for Lou’s estranged gun runner father (Ed Harris). Jackie also works and occasionally sleeps with Lou’s skeezy brother-in-law (Dave Franco), who beats Lou’s sister (Jena Malone) so badly she ends up in the hospital. These threads will, of course, dovetail in a twisted plot that requires more than one corpse being rolled up in a carpet and hidden away.

But Love Lies Bleeding gets more and more bulked up with portentous metaphors as it goes along. One character collects the types of bugs that burrow and scavenge and feed off decay. Another is haunted by recurring visions of a desert canyon that goes down for miles and is filled with secrets. Everyone is dwarfed by the seemingly infinite desert skies, and disappear down winding roads that stretch into darkness. Every time Jackie shoots up, we can hear the drugs coursing through her bloodstream, a motif that pays off with a bit of visual literalism you’ll either find exhilarating or straining for effect.

The opening scenes, which have a nice sense of time and place, give us flashbacks to other tightly wound neo-noirs, namely the Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple and the Wachowskis’ erotic Bound. But unlike those earlier films, the plotting here is haphazard: We know that bad things must happen to these characters, but those bad things should develop from the droll logic of the story; instead, it feels like a dramatic pile-on, the work of a filmmaker jolting the audience with provocations. The director is Rose Glass, whose assured debut was the psychological puzzler Saint Maud, and I think she ultimately loses control of what initially makes her material tick; it’s over-the-top yet undercooked.

That isn’t to say Love Lies Bleeding is a failure, because it has been made and acted with power. Stewart’s mumbly magnetism sells us on her character’s hidden depths, and Katy O’Brian, who has only been in small roles before this, turns out to be the sort of presence you can’t take your eyes off of. For all of its noirish machinations, this is ultimately a film about bodies, and not just dead ones. It’s about physical stamina; about delirious sex; about blood, sweat, straining muscles and bulging veins. There’s more than a hint of sadomasochism in the central romance, a suggestion that both Lou and Jackie are more comfortable with pain than most. Perhaps, the movie seems to be suggesting, they’ll escape that small town yet.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.


Nathan Weinbender is a film critic and one of the regular co-hosts for Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101, heard Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.

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  • On this week’s show, Dan Webster, Nathan Weinbender, and Mary Pat Treuthart discuss two films that defy standard critical summation. The first is Doug Liman’s re-envisioning of the 1989 movie “Road House,” and the second is Rose Glass’ neo-noir “Love Lies Bleeding.”