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Sundance Review: Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brien Ignite in LOVE LIES BLEEDING


Two women leaning up against a truck bed
Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute

By Dolores Quintana


LOVE LIES BLEEDING is the second feature film from writer and director Rose Glass after her acclaimed first feature, Saint Maud. The film is described as follows: “Reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Las Vegas in pursuit of her dream. But their love ignites violence, pulling them deep into the web of Lou’s criminal family.”


The film stars Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone, and Anna Baryshnikov. This cast is entirely game for the twists and turns of this crowd-pleasing, buck-wild crime drama that is the backdrop of a tender and very hot love story. It’s one of those instant, sizzling sexual connections that just so happens to be between two women. 


Stewart’s performance of Lou initially looks emotionally beaten down, but she starts to come alive when she’s with Jackie. Katy O’Brien’s performance of Jackie radiates strength, but underneath her forceful grin are trauma and anger. Together, the women explode with passion that isn’t just shown in their love scenes but with the connection of their spirits. Lou and Jackie will immediately back each other up, no matter what. However, their trust issues sometimes cause them to pull back resulting in tragedy.


After the chilly English scenes of Saint Maud, LOVE LIES BLEEDING is set in the dusty American Southwest, and there is a bloody hum of danger underneath each frame. The men in the main cast are both charming evils, with Ed Harris lit in red with his striking face and long hair, giving a feeling of all-seeing and all-knowing power. 


A theme that I have noticed at this year's Sundance Film Festival, especially among the Midnight selections, is that of women finding the strength within themselves to defy masculine power. These are women who are strong but don’t acknowledge it and defer to patriarchal men and their relationships with them. Lou has always had that strength, but she finds expression of her true self in her love and relationship with Lou. It’s like she has come alive after years of being trod into the earth. 


Jackie is a woman who is hiding her trauma through physical strength and a powerful physique. When someone has been physically or psychologically abused, they can sometimes act out with violence when they feel threatened. The only person that Jackie lets in is Lou, and the only person that Lou lets in is Jackie. They are both tough and willing to do whatever is necessary to survive, no matter if it’s legal or not. 


The moments that we see Jackie lifting or enraged, Glass has added scenes of flesh erupting in muscles. It’s not body horror, but it’s the opposite; it’s body love. It's the flesh protecting the person or giving them the strength to protect others. It shows that both women are very protective of those they care for.


One of the many side effects of trauma comes after victims are forced to not express themselves; however, with Lou and Jackie, the murders and duels of will are the background to a powerful story of two women who can express who they really are however flawed that might be.


As for gore, there is one scene in particular that Glass cuts back to more than once. Suffice it to say, it's a very good and satisfying one. Making for a wonderful addition to the film are these veins of cackling dark humor that are sprinkled throughout.


As for the somewhat graphic sex scenes between Lou and Jackie, they exist for the characters and not for the audience. In one scene, after a fight, we see Lou do something so vulnerable that it makes the emotional sharing between the two of them that much more intense. The strength of the film lies in the emotional resonance and vulnerability between the two leads that you almost feel ashamed to be watching how deep and raw it really is.


LOVE LIES BLEEDING is a beautiful, f*cked up, hot lesbian love story with elements of magical realism and droll comedy peppered throughout. Sweet, tender, yet hard as f*ck.


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