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Love Lies Bleeding

The British director of psychological horror St Maud crosses the pond in order to create an equally convincing (and violent) tale of queer love - from the Berlinale Special Gala section of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival

Rose Glass’s sophomore film is the follow-up to the equally exhilarating debut St. Maud (2019), a very unusual possession horror. This gritty lesbian thriller seems to confirm the queer leanings hinted at in St Maud, primarily of nurse Maud’s infatuation with her patient Amanda. On this occasion, lesbian sexuality takes centre stage but in a backdrop of rampant misogyny in the gun-toting US of the 1980s. Initially one questions why we are seeing people smoke indoors, even in the gym, but it’s not until a news report from a television tells viewers about the fall of the Berlin Wall that we realise what year we are in: 1989

Lou (played to perfection by Kristen Stewart), glamorously unplugs a clogged toilet at the gym she manages in New Mexico. The dirty task doesn’t deter her infatuated onlooker, friend and occasional fuck buddy Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), who is trying to corner her into hooking up after work. Lou appears disinterested, perhaps because Daisy is too keen. But what does lt her out of her boredom is the sudden appearance of bodybuilder Jackie (an equally exceptional Katy O’Brien), homeless, making her way through town on route to a bodybuilding contest in Las Vegas.

Lou is immediately smitten by her, and vice versa. Jackie appears to swing both ways. The night before, she indulged in a quickie with Lou’s abusive brother-in-law in the back of his car, in a bid to get her a job at the local shooting range. Lou and Jackie’s relationship blossoms at record speed with Katie moving in after their first night together. As the two become close, Jackie becomes embroiled in the shenanigans of Lou’s criminal family to detrimental effect, conjuring up her own demons of the past.

Glass continues to indulge with the depraved themes of hardcore violence, exhibited in numerous guises, as well a good dose of sex, in a narrative that is continuously escalating in pace. Similarly to St Maud, events gradually build into a frenzied crescendo, ratcheting up the anxiety, before slowly introducing some bizarre and hallucinatory images.

Physicality is also one of the movie’s pillars. The pulsating veins of Jackie’s muscled arms surface when she fumes, signalling to some physical beastly transformation. This gives you a clue to how the film will end!

Glass is particularly good at capturing nuances. Being a native Brit, her ability to eloquently convey the grubbiness of English seaside towns in St. Maud would seem natural. And yet similarly with Love Lies Bleeding, she manages to seize the spirit of a dusty small town in a very conservative US, during the 1980s. Is this perhaps an auteur in the making?

Love Lies Bleeding showed in the Berlinale Special Gala section of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Daniel Theophanous - 19-02-2024

Daniel has contributed to publications such as Little White Lies, BFI, Tape Collective, Hyperallergic, DMovies and many others. A lot of Daniel’s work is focused on LGBTQI+ cinema and hosts a podcas...

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