de facto film reviews 3 stars

Director Rose Glass’ feature directorial debut Saint Maud became a casualty of the pandemic, seeing its release delayed and delayed, ultimately dumped in early 2021 with little fanfare. The religious horror thriller showed great potential with Glass, a new filmmaker, having a unique, uncompromising vision. Her sophomore feature, which premiered at Sundance to great acclaim, comes with plenty of buzz and largely lives up to its potential.

Courtesy A24

Kristen Stewart is Lou, the reclusive manager of southwestern gym, owned by her father Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). Lou’s father also owns the local gun club, responsible for shipping arms through the Mexican border, while paying off the town’s police force. She meets hitchhiking stranger Jackie (a breakthrough turn by Katy O’Brian) who is on her way to Vegas in hopes of winning a women’s bodybuilding pageant. Together, the two fall madly in love, and Jackie begins picking up some waitressing gigs for Lou Sr. However, this is a small-town crime neo-noir with bumbling characters capable of violence, so Lou and Jackie’s heated, star-crossed romance is threatened by the many nefarious forces existing in their little town.

With her second feature film, director Rose Glass shows a great deal of confidence in her abilities to build tension and craft an exciting plot using dark comedy and sparring jolts of unflinching violence. Playing like a mix of Bound and Pain & Gain, Love Lies Bleeding is a stylish crime thriller that’s punctuated by bursts of Cronenbergian body horror. Glass is an interesting filmmaker in how she presents flesh; from the tactile close-ups of O’Brian’s sweaty accentuating muscles when she lifts weights and the damage done to the physical form in the film’s bloodiest moments.

The world Glass creates is vivid and even lurid; with cigarettes and sweat filling up damn near every frame. Taking place in 1989, Glass highlights the southwestern slice of Americana, fitted with the hair, clothing and culture of the setting. However, as opposed to biting off directly from the Coen Brothers playbook, Glass, and co-writer Weronika Tofilska, takes enough singular narrative detours, often making a hard pivot whenever you expect them to take the straightforward path. Clint Mansell’s ethereal score adds a chilling ambience to the atmosphere so effectively created by Glass and cinematographer Ben Fordesman.

Courtesy A24

Anchored by its two leading stars, Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian have a rich chemistry with one another. Their desire is highly palpable and the dynamic between them evolves throughout the film. O’Brian’s Jackie is a woman struggling to ward off her worst, most violent impulses. That is, until she finds a purpose to let go. O’Brian brings a tenderness to the character that effectively contrasts to her raw physicality. Having made small appearances in projects like Disney+’s The Mandalorian and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, this is fully a star-making performance, one that feels like we’re witnessing a new movie star being born. Kristen Stewart continues to amaze as Lou, giving the Oscar-nominee plenty of ample opportunity to navigate some tricky black comedy with a character that is too smart, yet too sloppy for her own good. Dave Franco is effective as Lou’s scummy, mullet-wearing abusive brother-in-law; a performance that feels partly inspired by big brother James Franco’s many low-life screen performances. Ed Harris, sporting a one-of-a-kind balding mullet, adds an imposing, brooding presence to the screen. Harris’ Lou Sr. is the kind of kick in the teeth that makes Love Lies Bleeding so intriguing. The father/daughter relationship between Harris and Stewart adds a subversive wrinkle to the film, making the final act so deeply investing.

Like Glass’ first film Saint Maud, there are some storytelling kinks that still need to be worked out; no pun intended. Glass is very skilled with her visuals, but they do occasionally come at the expense of the narrative. Some metaphorical elements are rendered a bit too bluntly. For a 104 minute thriller, you don’t start feeling the stakes and the weight of the situation until nearly an hour into the film, which is almost too late. Thankfully, the rousing final act brings the film together.

Courtesy A24

A singularly realized piece of cinema from Rose Glass, Love Lies Bleeding is a sexy, bloody and darkly comedic crime thriller filled with sweat, bullets, steroids and cigarettes. It may take a while for the films many elements to gel, but once they do, the experience is a thrilling one.