Rose Glass’s debut feature film, 2019’s Saint Maud, is a shockingly strong introduction to a filmmaker of singular style and voice. Her follow-up film, Love Lies Bleeding, builds on the style introduced in Saint Maud—body horror, artistic application of gore, women bound and unbound by strict societies, surrealism—while also making room for Kristen Stewart, also an artist of singular style and voice. 


Like all of Stewart’s recent choices, Love Lies Bleeding feels specially crafted just for her, and the collaboration between Stewart and Glass is a fruitful one, yielding a film that is like if Near Dark and Showgirls (which Glass acknowledged as an inspiration) had a gross cinema baby. 


Stewart stars as Lou, the manager of a gym in the ass pimple of nowhere, New Mexico. She’s going through the motions, fending off gym rats and the unwanted advances of local addict Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov); attempting to remain close to her sister (Jena Malone), in the throes of an abusive marriage; and remaining estranged from her creepy father, also called Lou (Ed Harris). It’s 1980-90-something, sometime after Die Hard and before the banning of smoking sections. The clothes are awful, and the hair is worse. This film looks like it smells terrible.

Into Lou’s humdrum existence sweeps Jackie (Katy O’Brian), an aspiring bodybuilder who is Vegas-bound for a bodybuilding competition. O’Brian delightfully matches Stewart’s wily energy with a raw ferocity that makes Lou and Jackie a compelling pair, and their instant attraction and rapid love affair is fully believable. At times, Love Lies Bleeding reminded me of other dark romances trading in Americana and doomed lovers, such as Queen & Slim and Bones and All, and like those films, Love Lies Bleeding owes some of its DNA to Katheryn Bigelow’s backroads vampire classic, Near Dark. There’s a thrillery, neo noirish air to Love Lies Bleeding that fits in well with those other films.


But it also shares some DNA with Showgirls, though the sexploitation in Love Lies Bleeding is constructed for the female gaze, with actually no care given to the male gaze. The sex is sweaty and crass, and the image of muscle-bound Jackie and skinny Lou in bed together walks the line of comical and pornographic given the sharply defined differences in their physiques, like asking the audience to imagine their sex even AFTER watching a sex scene. There is a central focus on The Body, with close-ups of Jackie’s roided-out body, but also disturbing shots of a man’s face with his jaw half hanging off following a murder. The body horror isn’t limited to gore, though, Jackie is a horror, a maybe inhuman being so pumped full of chemicals either she’s hallucinating, or we are. 

Guns, drugs, chemically enhanced bodies—all of America’s vices are montaged through Glass’s outsider’s eye, and for much of its runtime, the smoke-encrusted haze of sh-tty desert Americana is enough to fuel the film. Where it stumbles is in the final 30 minutes, when events spiral out of control, as events are wont to do. Saint Maud’s ecstatic conclusion rides on a wave of religious fervor that rises throughout the film, and though Love Lies Bleeding doesn’t shy from violence, the finale still feels a little out of nowhere, the actions a little unearned, the surrealism not unwelcome, but a bit disorienting nonetheless. Hints of Jackie’s maybe real, maybe not otherness have been doled out carefully, but it is still shocking when Glass goes full Lisa Frank dream sequence—maybe?—in the conclusion. 


Love Lies Bleeding is slightly uneven, overall, but so full of detail and anchored by Stewart and O’Brian’s excellent performances—and goosed along by Clint Mansell’s skin-crawling score—that it adds to Rose Glass’s already exciting fledgling oeuvre. She is a confident filmmaker taking a big swing, matched with a pair of confident actors willing to ride that swing wherever it takes them. Even if the swing doesn’t fully connect in the end, they still get somewhere interesting together. Love Lies Bleeding is a mostly effective piece of pulp cinema that takes on Americana at its nastiest and most desperate.

Love Lies Bleeding is now playing exclusively in theaters.