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Review: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is an amped up yet romantic thriller

By Jay Collura     3/19/24 10:28pm

Score: ★★★½

Neo-noir is one of my favorite genres — it’s often a perfect blend of crime, action, dark comedy and snaking narratives that equally enthrall and disgust the audience. 

The genre can reflect the omnipresent shadows of society, but “Love Lies Bleeding,” director Rose Glass’ sophomore feature, takes a different approach. By amplifying the grime, grit and violence that noir stories are known for, Glass has also elucidated some of the genre’s sanguine undertones, constructing a lurid thriller that simultaneously commits to surreal bleakness and powerful romance.

Powerful is certainly the operative word — “Love Lies Bleeding” is a film about control and the lengths people can go to seize it. The story follows Lou (Kristen Stewart), a manager at a New Mexico gym who quickly falls for Jackie (Katy O’Brien), a new face in town looking for a place to train before she competes in a Las Vegas bodybuilding competition. As the film continues, the relationship between the two begins to unravel, as Lou’s criminal family slowly starts to creep back into her life. 

Both parts of this story hinge on the chemistry between the two leads, who do a great job depicting both an intense passion and a building rage toward their inability to fully grasp the opportunities given to them. 

Stewart is perfectly cast, as her trademark self-restraint slowly unravels parallel to her character’s carefully constructed plans. O’Brien is the standout, though — her physicality matches her body-builder persona, and she captures a certain aimlessness essential to the romance perfectly. Ed Harris can also not go unmentioned. The Hollywood legend plays Lou’s villainous father perfectly, channeling a chilling apathy into his best moments.

This core trio enables both the romance and the power struggle central to the film, which unravels in a satisfying, albeit conventional, manner. If you have seen a Coen Brothers film, you will know what to expect, but the romance central to the story adds a new dimension to the mix that keeps everything fresh. Rather than dark comedy capturing the audience, the tension builds as the audience grows fond of the relationship between the two leads. 

Romance is not the only added dimension, however. Increasingly surrealist imagery is slowly incorporated as the film progresses. The grimy New Mexico landscape, which is wonderfully photographed to match the film’s 1989 timeframe, slowly fades into red hues and strange, body-horror-esque moments reminiscent of Glass’s previous film “Saint Maud.” This transition not only creates more immediate shock but complements the film’s themes of power and control nicely.

However, the film’s scope seems surprisingly limited, despite the variety of genres and influences it manages to incorporate. The way the plot twists and turns is a blast, but I had an unshakeable sense of claustrophobia while watching. Many scenes are shot in tight close-ups, which is appropriate for romantic moments but inappropriate for some of the winding action sequences. In other words, the film’s presentation occasionally fails to capture the ingenuity of its premise.

Regardless, the film is a captivating watch and a strong return to theaters for startling, violent thrillers. Even if not every piece of the puzzle feels fully connected, and even if the ambition is pushed beyond its breaking point, the film succeeds at creating a glimmer of hope in a dark world — which, in a very, very macabre sense, is appreciated.

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