At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Love Lies Bleeding “2024”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Romantic Thriller/Stars: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, Dave Franco/Runtime: 104 minutes

Among the many phrases out there that we as human beings like to utilize in various attempts to restore one’s spirits, boost one’s ego, or both there is one that I find to be particularly worthy of either a groan or a serious roll of the eyes when utilized. That being the phrase “love conquers all”. This is because, despite the genuinely sweet sentiment to be found at the heart of it, there are times where if one really does stop to think about it there might just be some things that even the power of love might not be enough to help us cope with. I mean yes love can conquer the pain one feels when their heart is broken, but can it conquer your taxes? Can it help you figure out why your colon is blocked? Can it ensure that a theme park full of dinosaurs does NOT break down? Most importantly of all however: can love actually conquer the horrific, dreadful, and nothing short of terrifying phenomenon that is….a Monday morning?! Thankfully however whilst love might have its hands full dealing with those particular ailments I just mentioned, there is one thing that it can definitely help one conquer should you find its assistance to be vital in doing so. That being a mix of both a family full of sleazy and despicable individuals to say nothing of getting out of the small town you grew up in so you can pursue either a better life or the dreams you have long had yet never really dared to act upon. Indeed if that seemed really specific dear reader then trust me when I say that is by no means an accident. Rather, it is because it is that take on love conquers all which happens to be at the heart of the fairly new release, and slice of cinema I happen to be reviewing for you today, Love Lies Bleeding (charming title I know). A film that, despite being very much a warped, bizarre at points, and yet also undeniably romantic entry in the neo-noir thriller genre of movie magic, still manages to sneakily thwart being categorized that easily. Even with that in mind however, please don’t let that deter you from seeing a slice of cinema that I must admit to you is an absolutely twisted delight and then some from beginning to end. To be sure, it does have a few issues scattered about here and there, but even so with the aid of compelling work both behind and in front of the camera, there is no denying that Love Lies Bleeding is an amusing, riveting, and very much chaos-driven romance that will not only leave you and your significant other (should they be up for it) on the edge of your respective seats, but is also one of the most delightful hidden gems I have had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time.

The plot is as follows: Taking us all the way back to the “long ago” year of 1989, Love Lies Bleeding gets its taut narrative underway by introducing us to our main heroine, a woman by the name of Lou, at a rather unusual point in her life. That being as she is desperately trying her darndest to get a toilet unclogged. I guess now would be a good time to point out dear reader that this is neither hobby nor passion project for our heroine. Rather, it is a part of her day-to-day job. Not as a plumber (nice try though), but rather as the manager of the gym she works at in her desolate and off the beaten path small Nevada town. Despite what might seem like some to be quite the cushy gig, we see that’s not exactly how Lou feels about it. Actually, come to think dear reader, I don’t think Lou really has feelings about anything. I say this because, despite some pretty heavy romantic hints being thrown her way by a woman named Daisy, Lou is the kind of person who you might find listed in the dictionary under the example sections for the words “aloof” and “disinterested” respectively. In fact, if Lou had it her way she wouldn’t even be living where she currently lives. As for why she does, it doesn’t take too long for us to see that it might have something to do with her sister Beth. A good-hearted and kind woman who, for all of her positives, does have one big detriment to her name in the shape and form of her abusive scum of a husband JJ. As lackadaisical as our heroine’s life has seemingly been up to this point however, it isn’t long before we see that this is all thrown for a complete and utter 180 due in no small part to the arrival in town of a female bodybuilder by the name of Jackie. A woman who, among other things that might be worth knowing about her, is not wanting to stay in town long and is just passing through on her way to Vegas with the goal of making it to bodybuilding competition there which should set her on the road to success and triumph beyond her wildest dreams. Yet despite there being very much an undeniable attraction between our heroine and her new lady love, we see that there are definitely some stumbling blocks set in their collective path. Ones that may or may not have ties back to both Lou’s estranged father, and local crime lord, Lou Sr as well as a series of rapidly escalating violent incidents. Thus can our dynamic duo get through this nightmare and be able to embark on a new life together or is this one set of circumstances that even love, in all its power, might have trouble conquering? That I will let you discover for yourself….

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema is nothing short of extremely well-done in every sense of the word. This starts with the work done on this film’s script and, as penned by both helmer Glass and compatriot in the indie film scene Weronika Tofilska, this is one partnership that results in a film that is definitely off the rails cinema at its finest. To be sure, there are nods to everything here from old school film noir all the way to such films as Showgirls and (I kid you not) the second Pumping Iron documentary, but that’s merely what is on the surface of this film. I say that because when one sees the actual substance this film is working with, it becomes wonderfully clear that the actual material is very much unique and willing to be its own thing with a joy and enthusiasm that is genuinely palpable. It is perhaps that “throw everything at you including the kitchen sink mindset” which helps to make this film as much of a joy to watch since by doing so not only does Glass unhesitatingly task us to keep an eye on the film at all times, but it also ensures that we are able to be on board with choices made by her protagonist pair that, in a lesser film, would have crossed one too many lines for some audience members’ comfort levels. Proving to be just as on-point is the work done by this slice of cinema’s cinematography department, as headed by Glass’ cinematographer from Saint Maud Ben Fordesman, and, much like the work done on that slice of cinema, what we are given here is nothing short of beautiful even when what we are seeing unfurl before our eyes on camera can be quite visceral. Indeed from nighttime shots drenched in red to points in the film that come close to being quite surreal (and even a shady parking lot or 5 thrown in for good measure) there is no denying that the work done by the cinematography department is absolutely impeccable here. We are also treated to incredible work from Glass at the helm as well. Indeed, as showcased by the work she did on her debut slice of cinema Saint Maud, we see that the helmsmanship on display in this slice of cinema is exact and yet consistently confident in its abilities to such an extent that not only is seemingly every shot we are given here framed less like someone who has only 2 films under their belt so to speak and more like someone who’s been doing this since the beginning of time, but Glass also does a phenomenal job of being aware of the exact moment to either cut away or where to place her cast of characters in a given scene to get the most impact possible from whatever is going on in that particular scene. Lastly, I definitely think praise needs to be afforded here to the brilliant work done here by composer Clint Mansell (Mass Effect 3, the 2005 Doom movie, and 2010’s Black Swan among others). Indeed not only does Mansell’s score here do a wonderful job of being alluringly dynamic, but it is very much appropriately in synch with the era the film is taking place in. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in absolutely outstanding work from the costume and make-up departments at making everyone in the cast (right down to that most infamous of 80s hair styles known as the mullet) look less like actors and more like actual people in that distinct decade it’s clear that this slice of cinema might not be for everyone, but for those who are able to synch up to its particular wavelength then hang on because you are in for quite the ride.

Of course, for all the positives that exist behind the camera, there is no denying that where this film truly succeeds is in regards to the powerful work done in front of the camera. This is especially the case with the performances given by both Kirsten Stewart and Katy O’Brian as every time they grace the screen they are nothing short of riveting. Indeed in regards to the former, we see that Stewart does a wonderful job of giving us a character who has long tried to live life on her own terms rather than that of her family’s only to find that to keep the happiness she has found in Jackie she might just have to combat the past she thought she had left far behind her. Suffice it to say that not only does Stewart do a fantastic job of utilizing non-verbal communication to convey to us far more than her dialogue ever could, but she also proves to be one heck of a reluctant action heroine in this as well. Matching her beat for beat, and then going beyond that, would be the work done by Katy O’Brian who, as Jackie, does phenomenal as being able to swiftly transition from someone who is genuinely loving and supportive to an individual who can cause some truly visceral violence to go down at the drop of the hat. As a result, we see that O’Brian’s turn here really does help to raise the already close to unbearable suspense and tension up several notches to the point where you are constantly on the edge of your seat wondering how in the world this is all going to play out. Yet it is in the moments where the two are on screen together that this film becomes a true force to be reckoned with. Yes the two really reinforce their respective performances, but there are moments where their strength can also go too far in this resulting in moments that are both taut and truly horrifying respectively. Indeed in many respects, this is one power couple that you will root for, be floored by, and it is nothing short of a genuine joy to see this pair work together on this film. Backing our dynamic duo up here is a potent support cast that, in their own ways, help to make this film a truly sleazy and grimy cinematic affair in the best way possible. This starts with none other than Dave Franco in the role of JJ and not only is this easily the sleaziest character I have seen him play since Eric in the Jump Street movies, but Franco also does an admirable job of making this guy one who has absolutely no redeemable qualities whatsoever and as a result gives the audience someone who they will enjoy rooting against in the best way possible. Equally as sleazy as Franco in this however is none other than screen legend Ed Harris as Lou’s dear ol’ pop Lou Sr. Indeed even before he shows up on screen, the film does such an excellent job at building this character up that the moment Harris finally comes into it he is able to play into that pre-built suspense in such a creepy and sinister way that it is a joy, however perverse, to watch him work. We also get a brilliant turn here from Jena Malone who, as Lou’s sister Beth, does a wonderful job at being someone who is both sympathetic and yet someone we can’t help but be continuously exasperated by due to the choices he makes throughout the film. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in a genuinely unnerving turn from Anna Baryshnikov there is no denying that this film might have its issues, but the work done by this small yet extremely well-chosen cast definitely helps make up for them.

All in all and at the end of the day is Love Lies Bleeding a perfect film by any means? Honestly no not really. With that in mind is this the worst thing since Kirsten Stewart did the Twilight movies or Ed Harris thought being in the 2017 disaster movie Geostorm was a good idea (spoiler: it wasn’t)? Thankfully, I can safely say that is most assuredly not the case either. Indeed when this film’s director unleashed her first slice of cinema to the world in the long ago year of 2019, it was definitely the heralding of a new and exciting voice in the world of cinema. Even so however, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that this slice of cinema would manage to take that already loud voice and manage to scream it in an octave that was even higher than before, but somehow dear reader she has managed to do just that and so much more. To be sure, this slice of cinema is by no means of the imagination one that every single audience member is going to look at and think to themselves “wow! What a great idea for a movie night either by myself or with my significant other!” At the same time however, I promise you that if you are the kind of person who has been looking for that hybrid of Showgirls meets Blood Simple then congratulations because you are definitely the kind of person who this film has been made for. Thus it might have a few issues here and there, but with the aid of top notch work done behind the camera and hard-hitting work in front of the camera by a game (and extremely well-chosen cast of talent) Love Lies Bleeding is more than just a phenomenal film through and through. Rather, it is also a terrific love story made up of equal parts blood, muscles, sleaziness, and crime that is sure to leave you cheering and maybe even wincing at points in equal measure. Just make sure to remind your significant other not to take any notes whilst watching it with you. Trust me when I say that doing so will *hopefully* make the next time (because there always is a next time) they get mad at you NOT see them take you to the gym and force you to lift weights as penance if not worse. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Love Lies Bleeding “2024” a solid 4 out of 5.