Blood simple

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is a blast


It started as love but it ended with a body in the desert. Sometimes, that’s how these things go.

But one look at the small New Mexico town where Loves Lies Bleeding is set, and you’ll get the impression that this is how these things often go. Everyone who resides here looks like they would feel at home in a hardboiled crime novel by Jim Thompson. “Be careful around here,” one character is told by two different residents. They never say why, but she soon finds out.

She is Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a drifter passing through on her way to Las Vegas, where she dreams of winning a bodybuilding competition. She screws one of the locals, J.J. (Dave Franco), in the front seat of his Camaro to score an interview at the local gun range. The range is run by Lou (Ed Harris sporting a mighty impressive skullet), and it’s not the only business he’s in charge of. 

Jackie lands a job waitressing at the gun range’s bar — arguably one of the worst entrepreneurial mash-ups this side of a Crossfit-Taco Bell — and then catches the eye of the woman running the local gym. Her name is also Lou (Kristen Stewart), and she invites Jackie back to her place for a passionate roll in the hay. Jackie’s been in town for two days, and she’s already secured employment, housing and a romantic relationship. Some work faster than others.

But, as these things go, nothing is as easy as it seems. Both Jackie and Lou have pasts they’re running from. And though Love Lies Bleeding only hints at Jackie’s, Lou’s is explored in visceral detail. I won’t give away the various character’s relationships, but this town is one where everyone has a history with everyone else. It’s never a coincidence that one character happens to be in that one place at that one time to see that one thing, only fate.

Thankfully, director Rose Glass — who wrote the screenplay with Weronika Tofilska — does such a good job of building atmosphere and tension that all of this seems plausible. Even when J.J. beats his wife Beth (Jena Malone), her face a swollen purple mass and his knuckles bruised and broken, the whole town turns a blind eye. And not because he is the type of guy you don’t want to cross, but because he is in cahoots with the type of guy you don’t want to cross. But Jackie, the outsider, doesn’t know that. So she sets the revenge-o-matic in gear, and the narrative skips from one story to another quicker than you can say Psycho.

Love Lies Bleeding is a fun, icky delight with touches of surrealism that give the noir-soaked story a tinge of David Lynch. In one scene, Lou closes her eyes and flashes back to the image of a face so bathed in crimson that he might as well be the devil. In another, Jackie’s well-honed body transforms into a hulking mass that makes her feel 10 feet tall. The way Glass and cinematographer Ben Fordesman visualize these emotions is fantastic.

Love Lies Bleeding is as jarring as it is exciting. It’s not a movie for the squeamish — lots of gooey blood and shattered bone in this one — or those seeking a tidy story. Everything here makes sense and connects, though I’ll be damned what to make of the movie’s ending. But it’s not likely to leave my memory anytime soon. Nor will Clint Mansell’s pulsating score, Stewart’s ability to convincingly play just about any character and all of those tawdry hairstyles and mustaches. In almost any other movie, they would seem silly, over-the-top and mocking. Love Lies Bleeding earns every strand.

ON SCREEN: Love Lies Bleeding opens in theaters on March 15.


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