Kristen Stewart's 'Love Lies Bleeding' Gushes with Unsanitized Sapphic Carnage

Directed by Rose Glass

Starring Kristen Stewart, Katy M. O'Brian, Ed Harris

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

BY Josh KorngutPublished Mar 12, 2024


After recently suffering through the acclaimed drama All of Us Strangers, I was in critical need of stories about queers behaving badly; cinema that exposes us as complicated, horny and selfish creatures who regularly happen to find ourselves in deep, deep shit.

Thankfully, Rose Glass's second feature film, Love Lies Bleeding, bursts down the door without so much as knocking. This sweat-stained thriller shines its magnifying glass on the unsanitized queer experience and lets the gay gaze linger there — sparking and burning down everything it encounters.

Part sapphic fever dream, part gritty crime drama, Love Lies Bleeding is a brutal and necessary addition to the queer cinema canon. It's a nail-biting hellscape grounded by the scorching hot chemistry between its two talented leads. Kristen Stewart stars as Lou, a young woman who runs a small town bodybuilding gym in the New Mexico desert. There, she encounters Jackie (Katy M. O'Brian), who is headed to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition. The two women fall in love at first sight, leading to the fast enabling of destructive behaviours such as steroid abuse and emotional dependency. A shocking domestic crime then flushes the lovers down a magnificently violent folie à deux.

Stewart's Lou is crushed beneath the emotional baggage left by her father, played by a carefully terrifying Ed Harris, whose long shadow feels impossible for her to escape. As much as I'm excited that Love Lies Bleeding is an exhibition of women misbehaving, I have to admit Harris comes dangerously close to stealing the whole show. He plays a grisly crime boss willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to keep his system in working order.

A morbidly fascinating character, Harris always subvert expectations, creepily cradling insects in his hands, and leaving trails of blood and viscera in his wake. To Jackie's surprise, she learns that Lou's father has never been homophobic, and actually accepts her for who she is. Unfortunately, his penchant for murder and brutality renders this irrelevant as he guides the star-crossed lovers down a gruesome spiral.

Lou's father's obsession with bugs serves as a clever entry point to the film's theme of physical metamorphosis. Just like the way a caterpillar will cocoon and change shape, Katie's newfound use for steroids to achieve muscle-mommy perfection becomes an important touchstone in Glass's odyssey of queer rebellion and transformation.

A mouth-cupping moment during the film's finale will take this metaphor to bewildering new heights, and likely have a polarizing effect on audiences. At the end of the day, there is something just so rewarding and exciting about watching two women misuse testosterone together, injecting each other with steroids before fucking on screen with an authenticity only a woman filmmaker could have wielded.  

Like so many of us queer folk, queer cinema has the right to be dirty, nasty, mean and, on occasion, just a little bit evil. But some prestige moviegoing audiences, likely uncomfortable with their privilege, breathe easier with their hands held in the acknowledgement that people on the fringes face systematic oppression. Sure, there's still room for educational trauma porn in film, but sometimes what we want is to see the honest underbelly of our experiences.

Love Lies Bleeding is the perfect antidote to the well-behaved queer tearjerkers of awards season. It's a welcome portrayal of chaotic lesbian mayhem that rings truer than most gay cinema from recent memory. Because after all, we are the drama.

(VVS Films)

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