‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Review: A Molotov Cocktail of Brawn, Lust, and Rage (Berlinale)

Queer stories aren’t a new concept. If you look at film history, especially before the Hays Code, you’ll see a vast collection that has been influenced by queer filmmakers since the beginning of Hollywood, even if it’s through fashion, set design, etc. Queer love stories have begun to find a wider footing since the turn of the century, their place in Hollywood moving from indie to mainstream with the likes of Love, Simon and Bros, with queer indie Moonlight, an excellent, reserved, and evocative triptych on queer trauma taking home the academy award for Best Picture. 

But they all, bar the odd exception, have something in common: their sexuality is always positioned in the narrative as a causation of trauma. In Rose Glass’s sophomore feature Love Lies Bleeding, a snappy, sultry, venomously exhilarating neo-noir thriller that feels like a breath of fresh air within the queer film space, the queerness of the characters is perfunctory to the plot, existing progressively not as something to comment on but as a facet of the characters’ lives.

Love Lies Bleeding Movie Review - Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian
Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding. Image courtesy of A24.

The story of Love Lies Bleeding

Ex-foster child and aspiring bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian with a career-defining performance) is on her way to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition. To earn money for the entry fee, she takes on a job waitressing at the local gun range by sleeping with JJ (Dave Franco), a slimy, mulleted sleazeball whose father-in-law Lou Sr. (an intimidating Ed Harris) runs the range. Continuing her bodybuilding, she begins working out at the gym run by Lou Sr.’s daughter, Lou Jr. (Kristen Stewart), a vest-wearing lesbian whose starving eyes instantly latch on to Jackie and her muscular frame. 

The two quickly find themselves in a U-haul lesbian dynamic with the homeless Jackie moving into Lou’s jaundiced apartment. Glass swiftly amps up the film’s tension as Lou Jr. provides the scrappy Jackie with steroids to increase muscle growth before her competition. Before long, their relationship finds itself under more strain than Jackie’s ripped arms after the appearance of the yellow-toothed drug addict and ex-flame Daisy (a scene-stealing Anna Baryshnikov) starts making intrusive waves, JJ domestically abuses Lou Jr’s sister Beth (Jena Malone), and their repressed memories of past pain resurface from the sunken depths of a canyon.

Exploring Control and Power as themes in Love Lies Bleeding

Glass makes witty and grisly use of hallucinogenic perspectives to indicate the fragile mental state of Jackie and her obsession with control and power. The discussion on power in Love Lies Bleeding comes from a juxtaposition it has with guns, as Lou Sr. tells her there’s more power in the cold steel he thrusts into her palm than the fist she callously wields. The steroid use becomes an addiction, as do sex and violence: measures and things she can make use of to get control, both of people and of her own sense of bodily autonomy. 

That the steroids also cause her to lose her grip on reality is a side effect of universal balance, where she gets control and power and forfeits sanity. This is not before it turns into the very poison that she derides Lou Jr. for inhaling from her cigarettes. The motivational posters on the gym walls preach about the necessity of strength, but Love Lies Bleeding is ultimately a story that is more interested in the corrosive effect it has on relationships and the addictive bite that comes with power, an addiction that both Lou and her drug-smuggling father understand far too well. 

Love Lies Bleeding Movie Review - Ed Harris in A24 Film
Ed Harris in Love Lies Bleeding. Image courtesy of A24.

Bombastic and outrageous queer love on screen in Love Lies Bleeding

While there are elements that feel unrefined, like the crimson-tinged flashbacks experienced by Lou Jr., Love Lies Bleeding is so untethered by convention that it feels like you have poured two red bulls into an IV bag and hooked it up directly into your nervous system rather than a vein. The film is this sexually charged, unconventional beast that pulses with sapphic psychosexual tension, confident that it can do anything it wants to do and will do in the wildest, most brutish way it can.

Queer love on screen hasn’t been this bombastic and outrageous since the Wachowski sisters rocked up with their electric crime thriller BoundGlass’s filmmaking is pulpy, playful, and not afraid to be unhinged enough to make the film an unforgettable and macabre experience. Invoking shades of Julia Ducournau’s TitaneLove Lies Bleeding is similar, where any and every moment feels like it can erupt as blood and sweat drip down glistening bodies. Love Lies Bleeding is a film that is as alluring as it is bruising, as ruthless as it is romantic. A provocative and potent Molotov cocktail of brawn, lust, and rage that is as intoxicating as the chartreuse drug injected throughout.

Love Lies Bleeding Movie Review - Katy O'Brian in A24 Film
Katy O’Brian in Love Lies Bleeding. Image Courtesy of A24.

Love Lies Bleeding is now playing at the Berlin International Film Festival. It will be in theaters on March 8, 2024.

Learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, at the A24 site. What do you think of Love Lies Bleeding? Does it intrigue you? Connect with us on X @MoviesWeTexted and let us know.

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