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“Careful where you sleep here, it’s dangerous.”
It’s rural New Mexico in the late 80s and everyone is glistening with sweat and desire. An ugliness permeates the landscape coupled with the threat of violence. This is the world of Love Lies Bleeding, Rose Glass’s darkly funny and queer neo-noir western about love, family and revenge. In the vein of films like Thelma & Louise and the Wachowski Sisters’ Bound, we are taken on an unforgettable, brutal journey.
The quiet Lou (Kristen Stewart) works at a grimy gym cleaning toilets and being bored out of her mind when Jackie (Katy O’Brian) and her impressive muscles saunter into her life. Jackie is a young bodybuilder from Oklahoma, training for an upcoming competition in Las Vegas and looking for a job. Lou is instantly smitten and a late-night hookup quickly becomes a blooming romance filled with passionate sex, eggs, and steroids. Lou — turned on by Jackie’s growing muscles — gets her lover started on the juice. Jackie moves and starts a waitressing job at a nearby gun range. But Lou was a loner for a reason and once this new woman enters her life, her troubles start to catch up with her.
Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is married to the abusive JJ (Dave Franco) but refuses to leave. So Lou stays, bringing her new girlfriend into the complicated family dynamic. And as if that isn’t enough, Jackie’s boss is Lou’s estranged father (Ed Harris) — also named Lou — and he uses their relationship to try and reconnect with his daughter. No one knows for sure where his wife is and two nosy FBI agents are curious about that mystery. Glass crafts a caustic web of familial and professional entanglements that threaten to derail Jackie and Lou’s love story. But it’s not just fate that’s interfering — there’s also the steroids.
Not much is known about Jackie’s past aside from the implication that she can’t go home again. She’s young, impulsive, and dedicated to getting as big and strong as possible. But as her steroid use spirals out of control, she starts to lose her grip on reality. Lou can see it, but she doesn’t want to let her go. And when Beth ends up in the hospital badly beaten, it sets off a bloody chain of events as Lou fights to protect herself and Jackie as they try to avoid the police and get out of town. Complicating matters is Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), Lou’s jealous and suspicious ex-lover who will do anything to get her away from Jackie.
Full of twists and turns, Love Lies Bleeding blends its noir elements with pure body horror as Jackie transforms into something beyond human. Her strength both scares and excites Lou and their attraction to each other is brash and carnal. Stewart and O’Brian have explosive chemistry, gazing at each other with an intensity that feels both too soon and eternal. It’s almost as if fate has brought them together to look after each other. Though lacking in physical strength, Lou gets her power from love, devoting herself to looking after Jackie no matter what. Just as Jackie is addicted to steroids, Lou is addicted to her.
There aren’t many lesbian films like Love Lies Bleeding. Glass’s sophomore feature is a truly unique vision of two misfit women who blow up their lives and the world around them. Expanding on the themes of her debut Saint Maud, Glass once again explores the poetry of brutality and the transformation of the body for worship as well as pleasure. There’s no one way to describe the nature of love or what it takes to hold on to it. Even with only two films under her belt, it’s clear that Glass is fascinated with desperate women. Not simply to gawk at them, but to push us as an audience to descend into madness alongside them, if only for a short while.
Love Lies Bleeding is an exciting, instant classic that will hopefully usher in a new era of unapologetically weird lesbian cinema.
Love Lies Bleeding will be released in theatres on March 8.