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Love Lies Bleeding

Director – Rose Glass – 2024 – US – Cert. 15 – 104m


A small town member of staff at a gym falls hard for a bodybuilding drifter, both unaware that each has baggage which will cause the other considerable grief – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 3rd

The 1980s. New Mexico. Night. Rising up from a crack in the Earth. Towards the stars. And looking out over the small town, over the Crater Gym. We follow a woman inside. (Who is she? We never find out.) Bodybuilders work out. As Lou (Kristen Stewart) works to unclog a lavatory blocked with something resembling small human body parts (!), she is hassled by Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) who appears to have been sexually close to her at some time, and possibly still is now only Lou doesn’t care.

Elsewhere in the night, a couple are having sex in a car. He (Dave Franco) is definitely enjoying it; she (Katy O’Brian), it’s hard to tell. She wants to know if she’ll get that job now. He says he’ll sort it. He warns her to be careful where she sleeps; this is a dangerous town. She finds a place at the side of a bridge; in the morning, it’s hot and sunny, she gets up and does her exercises using the edge of the bridge for pull-ups.

She visits the gun range to secure that job as a waitress from the boss (Ed Harris). Her name is Jackie. She has no interest in guns, preferring to rely on bodily strength. To get in shape for an upcoming bodybuilding contest, she works out at the Crater Gym, where she catches Lou’s attention and moves in with her that same night. Lou likes Jack, and offers her a physique-enhancing steroids kit free of charge, an offer of which Jack avails herself.

That’s the set-up, although the narrative has further revelations in store. Lou is estranged from her father, who turns out to be the gun club boss for whom Jack is working and who is embroiled in numerous dubious schemes, many of them involving murder from which countless corpses, we are told, litter the bottom of the crevasse seen at the start. Lou’s mother vanished many years ago; it’s not clear whether she left her husband or some sort of foul play was involved. The man who got Jack the job is the boss’ son-in-law, JJ, who regularly beats and abuses his wife and Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone).

As starting points, all these elements could go off in all manner of potentially weird directions, and in the course of the narrative they do. The two women, at once a couple and two very distinct and separate individuals, are at the centre, and the only two characters whose point of view is adopted; the others, most notably the boss father who probably has the most time onscreen out of the other characters, are only ever portrayed from the point of view of Jack or Lou.

The film plays out as part 1980s piece – there are no mobile phones or internet – part-lesbian romance / erotic drama, part crime movie, and part bodybuilder fantasy. The first three are convincing enough, but the fourth is badly handled towards the end. As the steroids begin to take hold of Jack, she becomes increasingly unstable, a state further fuelled by the boss’ schooling her in the use of guns and shooting. He is, among other things, a gunrunner trafficking illegal firearms across the border into Mexico.

By way of contrast, Jack is learning how to handle guns while becoming increasingly unstable, moving from a place of security wherein she is able to defend her person from threatened male violence with a few well-chosen physical body blows to a far more perilous situation where she goes out of control with a gun and starts to shoot one person here, another there.

This allows for some terrific scenes such as the one where having appeared behind Lou and shot someone else dead in Lou’s apartment, Lou must deal with FBI investigators turning up at her house to ask questions when she has just stashed a corpse – which she has yet to work out what she is going to do with – behind the sofa. Nothing about the film every quite matches the intensity of last year’s FBI drama Reality (Tina Satter, 2023), though.

In the closing minutes, the film overreaches itself with a gratuitous nod to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan Juran, 1958) as Jackie unbelievably turns into a giantess. This isn’t the only nod to 1950s SF movie pulp: at times, Ed Harris’ face – the way it is made up and shot – makes him resemble, for no apparent reason, the gill man from Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954), but this is just a strange effect that doesn’t disrupt the narrative, whereas the giantess device stops the flow of the piece dead in its tracks by disrupting the tale’s credibility.

However, aside from that deeply flawed scene near the end, and the less annoying but equally ill-thought out character walking into the gym near the start, this is an impressive thriller, impeccably cast, which constantly surprises in a good way. A very different work from director Glass’ previous offering, the religious horror film St. Maud (2019).

Love Lies Bleeding is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, May 3rd.


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