Kristen Stewart shines in gritty, yet formulaic, crime thriller ‘Love Lies Bleeding’

Kristen stewart sits in front of a door while covered in blood in a scene from 'Love Lies Bleeding.'
Kristen Stewart in ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Kooris)

The stylish crime thriller, “Love Lies Bleeding,” depicts the ride-or-die romance between two strangers, Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Their relationship takes some hairpin turns as bodies start piling up, but they go with the flow, and so should viewers. 

Speaking of flow, Lou is first seen unclogging a filthy toilet at the gym where she works. (Her skill at cleaning up messes will come in handy as the film unfolds.) Lou is also stuck. She does not speak to her mullet-headed father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), who runs a local firing range and collects bugs. Lou Sr. also runs guns to Mexico, which may be why the FBI agent O’Riley (Orion Carrington) wants to talk with his daughter. However, Lou does care for her sister, Beth (Jena Malone), who is in an abusive relationship with her mullet-headed husband, JJ (Dave Franco). (The film is set in the late 1980s, hence all the bad hair.)

Then Jackie blows into town. At first, she hooks up with JJ, who helps her get a job as a waitress at Lou Sr.’s gun range. An aspiring bodybuilder, Jackie works out at Lou’s gym and catches her eye. After an altercation in the gym’s parking lot, Lou gives Jackie a steroid shot. They then kiss and head back to Lou’s place for some hot sex and a hot breakfast.

Their romance is at the sweet-and-sour center of this seedy little film. Lou is smitten and holds the yolks out of Jackie’s omelets, quits smoking, and lets Jackie move in with her. Lou also keeps feeding her girlfriend steroids, which soon causes Jackie’s muscles to bulk up like the Incredible Hulk. The film’s visuals in this regard are amusing or scary or both, and Jackie’s roid rage figures prominently in the narrative. 

However, the couple’s relationship is soon tested. First, JJ tells Jackie that he had sex with her girlfriend, which angers Lou. Then, after Beth is hospitalized, Lou is enraged and says she wants to kill JJ. When JJ ends up dead, Lou covers up the crime and (re)directs attention to Lou Sr.’s criminal secrets. But there is a hiccup, ‘natch, that takes “Love Lies Bleeding” into a stereotypical genre film territory.

Director Rose Glass, working from a script she wrote with Weronika Tofilska, boxes the characters into a corner, and creates tension out of what will happen during a series of intense moments. As Lou tries to erase evidence of a crime, she must hide in a closet as someone enters the house. Similarly, when Agent O’Riley knocks on Lou’s door, she is in the process of trying to get rid of a dead body. These scenes feel contrived. Better is an episode where Lou tries to confirm if a witness has talked to the police about something she saw the night of the crime. 

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart sit on a car in a scene from ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’
From left, Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in ‘Love Lies Bleeding.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Kooris)

Meanwhile, Jackie is determined to go to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding contest. She defies Lou, who wants her to sit tight, but Jackie can’t shake what transpired, and while she has strong feelings for Lou, she needs to compete. A scene of Jackie having a very surreal moment on stage during the contest is both strange and vivid. 

“Love Lies Bleeding” features several fantastical scenes, such as one where an oversized Jackie pins down an adult male. Glass balances the harsh realism with some magical realism, and it can feel a bit clunky. And it is also debatable if the film needs one of its many gross-out moments, in which Lou Sr. eats one of his ugly bugs in a fit of anger. 

Glass seems to be trying too hard to shock audiences, from the graphic sweaty sex to the graphic bloody violence, “Love Lies Bleeding” rubs the viewers’ nose in its grittiness. That certainly has its lurid appeal, but some viewers may want to go take a shower even before the film is over. 

Nevertheless, viewers will become invested in Lou and Jackie and their relationship, which has some ups and downs as trust is broken and people keep dying. Likewise, Lou Sr.’s conflict with his daughter gets interesting late in the film when Lou challenges her father as the noose of justice tightens. Even a scene where Lou and Beth have it out is impactful, especially when Lou shouts “Love you,” despite being frustrated by and furious at her sister. 

Kristen Stewart effortlessly carries the film with her fierce performance which is all flinty looks and tough attitude. She is charming, slyly checking Jackie out at the gym and amusing when she acts surly towards her needy customers, or jumps on Jackie’s back in one scene trying to tackle her Amazonian girlfriend. Her performance is fueled with passion, and it is enjoyable just watching Stewart go all in. 

As the outsized Jackie, Katy O’Brian is impressive, and watching her get bigger, stronger, and more indomitable is diverting, but her character feels oddly underdeveloped. Jackie talks about being adopted, and even calls home in one scene, but these few episodes fail to provide much illumination or generate any emotion. 

In support, Ed Harris often chews the scenery as the leathery Lou Sr., but he is best when he dials down his menace. Harris seems to be having fun here, and viewers who want to get down in the muck with him will, too.

“Love Lies Bleeding” is a formulaic entry in the crime genre. But the lesbian romance, Stewart’s performance, and the nifty special effects make this film worthwhile.

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