Love Lies Bleeding review: A bloody triumph for lesbian love stories

Love Lies Bleeding stars Katy M. O'Brian and Kristen Stewart sitting on the hood of a car
Love Lies Bleeding stars Katy M. O'Brian and Kristen Stewart (Image: A24)

When a movie grips you from its opening frame, you know you’re in for a wild ride. Love Lies Bleeding, a genre-blending horror-thriller-romance-crime-comedy, kicks off with a man plunging in slow motion into a red-lit rocky crevice. It’s one hell of a shot, indicative of the showy cinematography to come. This reviewer submitted without hesitation, as did the full house at last week’s BFI Flare screening.

Director Rose Glass is a master of atmosphere. Her last film, the bananas religious-themed horror Saint Maud (2020), framed the seaside town of Scarborough as hell’s waiting room. Here, the desert town of Albuquerque, New Mexico is a tempting oasis of neon-lit vice, populated with surly, morally ambiguous characters whose desires fill the starlit sky.

Kristen Stewart is Lou, a discontented gym manager energised by the arrival of drifting dom top bodybuilder Jackie – Katy M. O’Brian, serving pure life force. The two delve into steroid use, and everything gets pulpier: their relationship, their bodies, and the film itself. They sink to tragic places, with Jackie in particular winding up a monstrous mess of ambition, and still, you root for them.

Lou’s crime lord father raises the stakes, luring the pair into his murky shenanigans. Ed Harris has a ball with the part, all scraggly hair and serial killer glasses: a draggy take on the all-American baddie. Elsewhere, Jena Malone adds another killer supporting role to her haul as Lou’s long-suffering sister-in-law, and Dave Franco is near-unrecognisable as her slimy freak of a husband.

Kristen, naturally, brings the moody, mysterious energy she’s known for in spades, but don’t mistake her for a one-trick pony. As her Oscar-nominated work in Spencer proved, she can act her socks off, and shape-shift when required. Here, her trademark understatement is essential, anchoring the melodrama in something vaguely resembling reality. At least until the final five minutes, when a zany plot twist takes you to a place I promise you won’t predict. (The film almost lost me here, until I decided to take it with a pinch of salt and smile.)

This is outlandish entertainment exploring themes of addiction and domestic abuse without descending into trauma porn; a lesbian love story that flirts with stereotypical tragedy before plumping for transcendence. Glass spins tonal plates like a pro, dispensing with the monolithic terror of Saint Maude to create organised, kaleidoscopic chaos: body horror, crime caper, gritty drama, erotic thriller – it’s all here. Above all, this is a absurdist gay pantomime; I half expected the sandblasted cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to rock up and meet the girls for a beer. Like that film, Love Lies Bleeding is an instant queer classic.

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