Love Lies Bleeding review | Rose Glass’ thriller is sensationally erotic and entertaining

love lies bleeding review
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Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brien excel in Saint Maud director Rose Glass’ sophomore feature. Here’s our review of Love Lies Bleeding. 

If there was any concern or doubt that Rose Glass, the director of 2019’s Saint Maud, wasn’t the real deal, her new film puts all that to rest. Glass’ second feature, Love Lies Bleeding, is a haunting, pulpy affair about the whirlwind romance between a gym manager and an aspiring bodybuilder. 

In a star-making turn, Katy O’Brian plays Jackie, who runs into Kristen Stewart’s Lou on her way to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition. Their chemistry is sizzling, but Lou’s troubled, criminally inclined family soon complicates their romance. 

The cast is rounded out by Jena Malone, Dave Franco and Ed Harris, who sports a particularly impressive hair-do. In a lesser film such ridiculous, over-the-top hair extensions might be a distraction, but here they only add to the uneasy, uncomfortable mood Glass aims for. 

Narratively, Love Lies Bleeding couldn’t be further from Saint Maud, but Glass employs the same stylish flourishes, just within a different framework. If Glass’ debut explored religious fervour as a source of fear, Love Lies Bleeding is almost a body horror film. The camera focuses on tight, flexing muscles with a mix of admiration and disgust. 

love lies bleeding katy o'brien
Credit: Lionsgate

The film’s sound design adds to this too. Nauseating squelching can be heard as the various bodybuilders flex their muscles and Jackie’s bodybuilding competition comes to a hallucinatory, terrifying conclusion. Not all elements of Glass’ film always work and she often chooses style over substance, but Love Lies Bleeding is constantly entertaining and intriguing enough to make you forget about this. 

Glass’ film is also unashamedly sexy and queer. Stewart and O’Brian have a palpable, hot chemistry that puts most rom-coms to shame. Both actresses are on fine form, especially Stewart. She’s more focused and committed here than ever, but O’Brian brilliantly matches and often contradicts her energy. 

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether or not sex scenes are necessary in cinema. The ones in Love Lies Bleeding are hot, heavy and completely imperative to immerse us in the all-consuming romance between Lou and Jackie. 

If you watched The Idol, HBO’s somewhat disgraced TV series starring Lily Rose Depp and The Weeknd, you know how difficult it is to pull off graphic sex scenes, never mind any kind of dirty talk on screen. Glass, along with her cast, somehow manage to make it look easy here. There’s a scene and a line of dialogue which feels eerily similar to a scene in The Idol, but whereas Sam Levinson’s series felt creepy and uncomfortable, Love Lies Bleeding is truly sexy without ever being exploitative.

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Harris is a suitably menacing presence and Franco is delightfully nasty as Malone’s abusive husband. Malone, often the best part of any film she’s part of, is slightly wasted here, thanks to a thinly written role, but she’s able to pad the role out a little by offering small clues as to why she would stay with Franco’s truly despicable JJ. 

Anna Baryshnikov, playing Daisy, a young woman obsessed with Lou, turns out to be the film’s secret weapon. Love Lies Bleeding is drenched in neon lights and Glass makes sure we all understand just how despicable each and every character is, but Daisy is a rare injection of innocence and a very welcome one too. 

Love Lies Bleeding comes to a slightly undercooked, abrupt end. The ending, which we won’t spoil here – but even if we did, you wouldn’t believe us about what happens – shows a lot of ambition on Glass’ part, even if it doesn’t quite work. Despite its flaws, though, Love Lies Bleeding is a sensational piece of cinema. 

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

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