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Love Lies Bleeding depicts a gritty and fantastical love affair

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Rose Glass (Saint Maud) directs a screenplay she wrote with Weronika Tofilska about Lou (Kristen Stewart), a gym manager who falls for Jackie (Katy O'Brian), an indigent and itinerant bodybuilder hitchhiking and picking up odd jobs on her way to a competition in Las Vegas. The two move in together, but soon they're embroiled in family drama involving Lou's criminal father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris); Lou's sister, Beth (Jena Malone); and Beth's abusive husband, JJ (Dave Franco). (104 min.)

LOVE BURN Bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brian, left) and gym owner Lou (Kristen Stewart) fall for each other and into a world of violence in Love Lies Bleeding, screening in local theaters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF A24
  • Photo Courtesy Of A24
  • LOVE BURN Bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brian, left) and gym owner Lou (Kristen Stewart) fall for each other and into a world of violence in Love Lies Bleeding, screening in local theaters.
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Glen File this one under the "weird but fascinating" category. Set in 1989, it depicts a world where neon-clad gym rats smoke and drink after workouts and where gun fanatics blast away at a barely supervised gun range. Both businesses are owned by Lou Sr., a gunrunner, with a local cop, officer Mike (David DeLao), in his pocket and a penchant for dispatching "business" rivals with a bullet to the head and dumping them in a remote chasm. Lou Sr.'s daughter, Lou, hates her father, hates her sister's abusive husband, JJ, and barely tolerates Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), a needy and jealous lesbian with the hots for Lou. These characters coalesce into a hornet's nest of crime and corruption as Lou and Jackie become lovers, and as Jackie takes a job waitressing at the shooting range bar. Dysfunction junction, what's your function? It's violence, baby. Violence.

Anna Are these two better off for meeting one another? I guess for Jackie it meant having a warm bed and for Lou it meant a break from loneliness, but things just seem to spell disaster for these two, no matter what. Lou has never left her small town in Nowheresville, USA, and Jackie fled the house of her adoptive family who didn't want to accept her being anything but a God-loving farm girl. Instead, she's a buffed-out fitness junkie with her eye on the prize and her head in the clouds, it seems. When Lou offers up some leftover steroids, Jackie's world unfortunately opens up to a whole new level of muscle mass—but the consequences of her heightened rage and strength soon spell trouble for the pair. There was a group in our theater that seemed to find this film to be either lighter or funnier than I did—I thought it was a dark dive and a pretty sad story. I will say this, the film is superbly acted.

Glen I think the laughter may have been discomfort and disbelief. There are a few particularly violent and grisly scenes as well as a couple fantastical moments I think are representative of Jackie's 'roided-out agitation. It all borders on the absurd. Despite everyone being compromised in some way, Glass guides viewers to sympathize with Lou and Jackie. There's something primal about their attraction, and both characters identify as underdogs, victims, and outsiders who want to rise above their station. Harris and Franco are both terrific villains, and Malone is infuriating as the beaten wife who refuses to leave her unbearable husband. Likewise, you just want to strangle the simpering Daisy. Props to Baryshnikov for making her so believably awful. Nearly a horror film, Love Lies Bleeding has a vibe like Men (2022), Mandy (2018), and Only God Forgives (2013). It's an uncomfortable watch, but Stewart and O'Brian are magnetic.

Anna They definitely have an undeniable dynamic, a hunger for each other. There are a few moments that felt less heavy—without giving too much away, I'll just say the end scene has some pretty great physical work by Stewart, and some of the more fantastical moments give an out-of-this-world vibe to the characters. All in all, this is a story about two lost souls finding each other. Now, I can't say I endorse this relationship—they seem pretty codependent, and everything is kind of a mess right from the start, but Lou and Jackie can't help but be watched. They are two sparrows in a hurricane. I hope they make it out alive. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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