Star Rating:

Love Lies Bleeding

Director: Rose Glass

Actors: Kristen Stewart, Katy O'Brian, Ed Harris

Release Date: Friday 3rd May 2024

Genre(s): Romance, Thriller

Running time: 104 minutes

Lou (Kristen Stewart) manages the Crater Gym in a small town for her criminal father (Ed Harris). Jackie (Katy O'Brian), a drifter who arrives in town, quickly sparks up a relationship with Lou while she begins to train for a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. As she begins to experiment with steroids from Lou, Jackie soon finds herself going into steroid-induced psychosis with bloody results...

In the space of just two weeks, the erotic thriller has returned rampant to cinemas. Where 'Challengers' was a high-octane mix of sports and sex with impossibly beautiful people knocking it back and forth, 'Love Lies Bleeding' comes from the school of Paul Verhoeven classics like 'Showgirls' and 'Basic Instinct', where lust and violence were deeply intertwined, and sex was as commonplace as dialogue. Much of 'Loves Lies Bleeding' looks like it should be viewed on grainy VHS with tracking lines, while the synth-drenched music from Nona Hendryx and Gina X punches through the speakers at full volume.

Kristen Stewart has always been at her brightest and most engaged when she steps out of the mainstream, with roles in the likes of 'Personal Shopper', 'Crimes of the Future', or further back to something like 'Lizzie' with Chloë Sevigny. In 'Love Lies Bleeding', Stewart's character is riven with the need for power, something that she utterly lacks in her own life. She can't even quit smoking, despite listening to self-help tapes whenever possible. Even though she throws herself as Katy O'Brian's character, there's a warped vulnerability that makes her performance all the more compelling. As to Katy O'Brian, her screen presence is terrifying and powerful - she's all muscle, and all rage, and all of it bubbling underneath the surface until it explodes in a storm that sets the screen on fire.

Ed Harris is terrific as the coiling snake of a father to Kristen Stewart, all beady eyes and gravelly pronouncements. His very presence on screen sends a chill, while Dave Franco's dirtbag moustache and rat-tails provide a slimy comic relief. Jena Malone and Anna Baryshnikov, meanwhile, both stand out from the supporting cast. For Malone, her quivering delivery fuels the female rage felt throughout the movie, while Baryshnikov's flailing overtures to Stewart has you squirming uncomfortably in your seat throughout her scenes. It's exactly the kind of jagged, gnarly performances you'd expect to find in Paul Verhoeven movies.

Rose Glass, who directed the underappreciated 'Saint Maud', is no stranger to horror and for much of 'Loves Lies Bleeding', the seediness and the desperate desire is enough to handle. Yet, when the steroid psychosis kicks in, the movie slams into another gear to become a Cronenbergian body horror, with vomit and dislocated jaws rolling into the mix - and that's not even before some of the truly weird stuff gets there. It's a trip, but the whole thing just about recovers. There's something really blatant and unapologetic about how 'Love Lies Bleeding' approaches both sex and violence, much as Paul Verhoeven has, but it's so rare to see it in modern movies. So often there's a desire to temper these things, but here, it's raucous and wild. That, of course, comes with a lot of sloppiness that can sometimes be distracting and almost fatal in parts - but it's never not vital and alive.