‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Delivers a Beautiful Love Story Rubbed in the Dirt

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian will have you cheering for true romance.
Love Lies Bleeding

Hollywood rom-coms might have you thinking otherwise, but every love story is unique in its own way. From the way two souls come together to the degree of adversity they face along the way, love is a bitch that most of us just can’t live without. That drive is why most movies on the subject give their characters a minimal uphill battle at least, and it’s why the better ones typically make that molehill a mountain in disguise. Rose Glass‘ feature debut, Saint Maud (2019), featured a character madly in unreciprocated love (unreciprocated because god ain’t returning her affections), but she’s doubled the intensity for her follow-up. Love Lies Bleeding brings together two young women unlucky in life but more determined than ever to be lucky in love.

Lou (Kristen Stewart) manages a hole-in-the-wall gym filled with meatheads, big hair, and sweat, and while one day drips into the next, that changes when she sees a new gym rat flex her way into her heart. Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is new to town, a bodybuilder looking to get swole for a few weeks before heading to a competition in Las Vegas she desperately needs to win. The two hit it off immediately despite the limited world views of a small, seedy town in the late 80s, but it’s not long before the past slithers its way between them and rears its ugly head. Lou’s family history is riddled with violence, and I’m not just referring to the thing her father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), calls a haircut.

We all fight for the ones we love, some of us just do it in sweatier, bloodier, more painful ways. Glass’ sophomore feature is that love story rubbed in the dirt, a tale of two lost souls struggling to dig their way out of trouble and into each other’s hearts. Pulpy, messy, sweet, Love Lies Bleeding is a lot of grisly fun and arguably as close as this generation has gotten to their own True Romance (1993). Blood is spilled, faces are smashed, steroids are injected, and crimes are committed, but the not a damn thing is going to stand in the way of these two. Well, until it does, and yes, I’m looking at you Dave Franco.

Glass’ script, co-written with Weronika Tofilska, establishes the intimacy and juiced up love shared between Lou and Jackie early on before shifting gears with sudden acts of violence. The elements at play, starting with and centered almost exclusively around Lou Sr., are familiar enough to fans of genre cinema to the point that you know he’s trouble the moment he enters the frame. (Harris’ haircut is also a tip-off.) The lack of general surprise isn’t a negative, though, as it’s the specifics that carry the film through its bloody beats with a mix of shock and dark humor. That’s not to imply Love Lies Bleeding is a comedy in any way, but Glass knows this is a story that works best with a slight tweak to the darkness, and she executes it beautifully.

Cinematographer Ben Fordesman‘s camera catches the intimacy and the gore with equal weight while still making sure to see the grim humor and wry smile cracking the corner of Lou’s mouth. The filmmakers have created a world that feels grounded to some degree while notes of pulp and noir sing at the edges. Cigarettes are terrible for you and everyone you know, but the smoke — which is everywhere here as nearly everyone has a stick between their fingers or lips — looks absolutely stunning against light and skin as it wisps away from mouths hungry for something even more satisfying. Clint Mansell‘s score finds a similar balance between the affecting and the funky, and the sound department shines every time Jackie flexes her muscles and we hear them pop.

Stewart knows this character is fucked up, but she’s just as sure that doesn’t mean a happy ending is off the table despite the bloody carnage of it all. She’s unsurprisingly terrific as a young woman walking a fine line between tender and tough. O’Brian, meanwhile, is a genuine find exuding a bubbly warmth and a desperate determination as two sides of the same coin. And yes, Harris is still the scariest old man you’ll ever see on the big screen.

Love Lies Bleeding will undoubtedly lose the squares with some of its graphic interactions between Lou and Jackie, but that’s their loss. Those that do squirm their way through the sweaty sexiness of it all, though, might just toss their hands in the air at the film’s final minutes. This is a movie for the weirdos, the ones left and right of center, and it follows that note through to the end. Glass and the film are asking a lot of viewers in those final scenes, but everything that came before then makes it feel earned in the best possible way. This is a love story, and sometimes love is bigger than we’re expecting.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.