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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Love Lies Bleeding

Violent Elegance & Bleeding Grace 

My immediate reaction to Rose Glass’s ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ had a “Domino Effect” structure, with praise for all the actors stacked on top of one another and each theme striking down another domino ready to lose itself completely in exact moments of euphoric retribution. Glass’s sophomore feature was balanced and dizzying, explosive and clear-cut at the same time. “Violence is never the answer” (As many of us are told in patronizing tones from very young ages) but seeing violence on screen often feels like a necessary tension release. Deep down, we all may harbor a silent “Capacity” to carry out extreme acts of violence against those who’ve brutally wronged us but how do you place that onscreen in a manner that is reflective of the messy/imperfection/consequential post-cleanup isolation of it all? How do you incorporate slaughter and maintain humanity? 

I have found several people in my travels who are weak and may I even dare say somewhat immature about violence, especially when they try to sound analytical as a means of attempting to hide their preachy judgment. They may as well try and sound analytical about needing to shower every day. Unlike showers, violent acts can’t be cleaned and scrubbed away. Maybe on the surface it can but underneath, the deception lies the crime scene that will always have a haunting history with the people involved. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Tell-Tale Heart.

The most liberating aspect of Glass’s vision is that despite the sense of prescreening predictability that is often associated with thrillers, her sense of direction always drives audiences way past the exit they see in the distance. It’s an extremely inviting piece, playfully welcoming even. It’s feral and violently elegant, barbaric and civilized with bleeding grace all at once. It harbors blood (The neon red of the opening and closing credits nurtures a substance entirely separate from this.  The film is interested in the “Origins” of violence but it seems more interested in how violence isn’t embraced by those who have a repressed hunger for it but continuously have to make circles around it. 

Like her debut feature “Saint Maud” in which Glass chillingly examines religious extremism and the loneliness it originates from, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ dissects violence through the lens of women who observe their circumstances with a numbing certainty. “Anyone can feel strong hiding behind a piece of metal,” one of them says with a solid confidence that may not be entirely truthful at this stage. “I prefer to know my strength.” 

Kristen Stewart plays the already defeated gym manager Lou, who in the film's opening moments seems too stuck in the muck of her circumstances in 1989 New Mexico to forge a way out when she meets Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Jackie is homeless and on the move from her inhuman existence in Oklahoma towards a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas where she intends to win before pursuing a career as a personal trainer in California. Instantly attracted to one another, Lou and Jackie hook up the night they meet and Lou lets Jackie crash with her at her apartment. The two fall hard and lie together as they open up about their pasts in calming tones that suggest there’s a lot they’re both leaving out. Their early love is bliss, their surroundings are not. Jackie takes a job working for Lou’s estranged father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris) much to Lou’s chagrin. Lou Sr. owns a shooting range out in the desert as a front for his gun trafficking empire. Several past associates of his have gone missing and the F.B.I’s interest in Lou Sr. suggests those associates won’t be talking anytime soon. 

Also working at the shooting range is Lou’s barbaric brother-in-law JJ (Dave Franco) whose continued physical abuse towards Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) remains unresolved as Beth defends her attacker.  She loves him and wants nothing bad to happen to him as she has multiple children with him. Tensions come to a head when Beth’s most recent brutal beating finally puts her in the hospital.  The sight of her bloodied sister in a coma leads Lou to have a nervous breakdown. Jackie sits still as a statue in the lonely far corner of the hospital room watching her girlfriend fall apart.  The silence of her physical demeanor is so loud and it’s abundantly clear that things are about to become much worse. The ticking time bomb is that Jackie has become reliant on steroids Lou naively supplies her. Jackie is injecting herself with heavy doses.  By the time it starts to take effect, the bloody aftermath has permanently stained the future for everyone involved. The F.B.I discovers the remains of Lou Sr.’s former associates, Jackie loses herself to the effects of the steroids, and Lou’s attempts to protect herself and Jackie are threatened by Lou’s former lover Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) whose creepy infatuation with Lou results in sexual blackmail to keep her in line. 

Franco and Malone give their all to their limited time on screen and successfully sell the believability of their character’s toxic marriage. As a character on screen, Harris has never been more evil or looked so different from himself. His menacing and cold-hearted calculating stare lingers long in various moments.  It's not until the end of the film that you realize that he doesn’t feel as invincible as he acts despite his underestimated treatment of those around him. Baryshnikov is terrifying as the pathetic needy Daisy whose silly demeanor never has a false moment as she struts around Lou like a drunken peacock. This peacock’s hair is so greasy, her teeth are stained yellow and rotting like a corpse. She shamelessly vomits pancakes and margaritas in front of an exhausted and mentally checked-out Lou, who couldn’t care less at this point about the unhygienic post-breakfast tendencies of a very queasy Daisy. Lou is second by second trying to figure out how to not drown in the chaos and save Jackie. Daisy meanwhile is having a blast, as she thinks she’s won. Daisy is so reflective of Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown. Just wait and see. 

O’Brian is a powerful force to be reckoned with and completely flawless in exhibiting her character's quenching thirst for physical domination and her undying love towards Lou. Stewart dazzles me every time she’s on screen. She has a spellbinding quality of classic 1940s Hollywood entwined with the quiet ferocity of modern-day acts of vengeance. As Lou, she encapsulates all of her inner rages, devastations, and sense of lonely emptiness as well as a sense of belonging as she falls in love and sees a future for herself for the first time. 

It is abundantly clear why she was so attracted to this script and Rose Glass as a filmmaker. Many films try too hard to be empowering while others breathe and have faith in the material. ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ believes in itself and goes above and beyond the bare minimum of what audiences who want to feel liberated can expect to see. Clint Mansell’s score is so effective and relevant to Glass’s vision, you’ll feel as though the music grabs you by the throat and slams you against the wall. The sound design of bones being broken and muscles growing elevates ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ to its “Fever Dream” quality. 

It may not seem important to most audiences that ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is set in 1989 but there’s so much about the plot that wouldn’t make sense had it been set in today's era. The flickering lights of Lou’s gym, the musty fabric of her carpet in her apartment, the cars, the wallpaper in Beth’s hospital room, the rotary home telephones and highway payphones all stand firmly between all the pain and ignorance of the 1980s and the fleeting remaining moments leading up to the 90s. 

None of the symbolism in the film is unnecessary. Lou has to unclog the gym’s grotesquely waste-filled toilet with her hand reaching so deep inside shadows mirror her constantly having to clean up other people's messes. Yet, the toilet keeps overflowing as do the problems. The historical significance of the Berlin Wall finally coming down plays on TV as Jackie is about to leave for her competition. Lou Sr. is a pesky bug that needs to be squashed immediately and like a parasite, picks up a bug in a moment of uncontrollable blind rage and eats it. The crunch is unbearable to hear no matter how brief. The cracks in the earth amongst the deserts where “Bleeding” bodies are disposed of are shown from the sky.  As I looked down at it, I realized there was something very “Vaginal” about the cavern of loss. Everyone will have their interpretation.  To me, these aerial shots highlight the physical strength and endurance of female bodies but also just how much they have to take with all the various people who forcefully end up deep inside them. 

All films have to end at some point, and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is no exception and came as a surprise to me. Fever dreams are very specific forms of dreams that die when people wake up. ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ ends but I can’t say I’ve woken up. We’re all sleeping amongst the ruins of the broken and the brutalized. ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ doesn’t overly point this out and rub our faces in it the way other films have, mostly because the bleakness of silent defeat has been Lou’s home for so very long. The isolation of not fighting back is so frightening in itself, feeling empowered just doesn’t feel worth it... Until it does!

LOVE LIES BLEEDING (tribute poster). Jan. 2024. PosterSpy, Almirondesign, Accessed 26 Mar. 2024.

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