Love Lies Bleeding movie review: gory and surreal queer crime thriller

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding (Love Lies Bleeding/Lionsgate)
Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in Love Lies Bleeding (Love Lies Bleeding/Lionsgate)

By now, it’s become a bit of a running joke: won’t somebody give the lesbians some electricity?

For ages now, many of the biggest films about queer women have been gloomily-lit historical dramas; from Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Favourite, to The Handmaiden and Carol.

While it would be unfair to call any of these exceptional films dour – all of them crackle with desire – they were all also underpinned by a familiar sense of doom, their leads fighting against the clock for a totally unsustainable love.

Filled with fleeting hand brushes, tightly-cinched corsets and yearnful stares lit by trembling candlelight, the only thing heavier than the gigantic underskirts is the ever-present weight of gay shame.

With this in mind, then, it has been exceedingly refreshing to see a new wave of films in 2024 that strike a much more offbeat tone. Here, our queer heroines are far more interested in getting off, and getting even.

From the over the top, farcical criminal capers of Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls, to Emma Seligman’s high school horn-fest Bottoms, sapphic cinema has taken a surprising, and often violent turn – and the best of the bunch is Rose Glass’ gore-tastic new neo-noir, Love Lies Bleeding.

It all begins in rural, late-Eighties New Mexico, with Kristen Stewart’s moping gym manager Lou. A lackadaisical, vest-sporting small-town queer who gives up and then resumes smoking cigarettes more times than Carrie Bradshaw across six series of Sex and the City, she seems bored out of her mulletted skull at first glance, but her surface-level nonchalance masks something more jittery and uneasy.

Namely, the shadow cast by her caricature-criminal dad Lou Sr, who lords over the local shooting range with his exotic insect collection and beyond-terrible haircut, and gets away – quite literally, in fact – with murder on the regular.

Despite his millions, Lou pokes around in a squalid bedsit instead, harbouring a vitamin D deficiency as she attempts to avoid the clutches of Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) a local weirdo who is totally obsessed with her. Any fleeting moments of self-pleasure, meanwhile, are immediately dulled by the sight of her nearby cat tucking into a lukewarm ready-meal.

 (Love Lies Bleeding/Lionsgate)
(Love Lies Bleeding/Lionsgate)

And so naturally, when Jackie (Katy O’Brian) and her glistening biceps rumble into town en route to a Las Vegas bodybuilding contest, Lou jumps at the chance for some excitement.

Within a day, the lust-fuelled pair quickly move in together, but far from living happily ever and merrily sucking each other's toes until the credits roll, Jackie’s ‘roid rage lands them in hot water after she wreaks jaw droppingly bloody revenge on Lou’s violently abusive brother-in-law, JJ. “What happened?” asks Lou, horrified. “I made things right,” Jackie replies.

The fast-paced thriller that unfolds from here follows many of the neo-noir’s leading conventions and tropes – blood, sex, drama, gore – set to a stylish blur of synth-pop pumpers or twinkling, ambient electronica (much of the latter by Japanese artist Shiho Yabuki) and ever-heightening amounts of magical realism as the story races forward.

Lou and Jackie do not necessarily have much extra depth beyond their dysfunctional desire for one another – we hear very little about their deeper drives, dreams, motivations, or connection to the film’s political setting.

Instead, we’re given only occasional clues into their wider existence outside of the plot: a copy of Pat Califia’s erotic short story collection Macho Sluts lying in Lou’s apartment, for instance.

Though the melodrama of pulp crime novels serve as a clear influence, Love Lies Bleeding’s other leading touchstone is surely Bound, the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking 1996 lesbian crime thriller.

And as with Bound, while Love Lies Bleeding’s plot sounds like your usual, mafia-battling, gunslinging fare on paper, the presence of its charismatic queer leads makes the whole thing rather more subversive.

Through this lens, Jackie’s fixation with transforming her body in spite of societal conventions of femininity takes on additional meaning; the late-Eighties setting, coupled with the framing of queerness as something monstrous and out of control, has obvious allusions to the historical context of the AIDS crisis, though these two threads are not picked at more closely within the film.

Though I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the mysterious secrets buried in New Mexico’s bottomless gully, perhaps this lack of explicit spelling out is no bad thing.

And besides: absurdist, gasp-inducing, melodramatic, and often intensely violent right through to the grisly, surrealist end, Love Lies Bleeding is entertaining enough without having to do all of the heavy-lifting.

Love Lies Bleeding is out on May 3

104 mins, Cert 15