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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

‘Love Lies Bleeding’ should’ve stuck to its guns

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian embrace in a scene from “Love Lies Bleeding.” The film follows two women as they explore body building, crime and family. (Anna Kooris | A24)

“Love Lies Bleeding” tries too hard to simultaneously be a romance and thriller. Instead, it misses the mark on both.

This new A24 film follows Lou, played by Kristen Stewart, a gym manager, who falls in love with new-to-town bodybuilder, Jackie (Katy M. O’Brian), who is preparing for a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. As the story progresses, it is revealed Lou and her father (Ed Harris) have been involved in a mysterious crime ring, a potentially dangerous situation for Lou and Jackie.

This film reaches a turning point around the halfway mark. While the first half builds up the romance between Lou and Jackie as the focus of the film, the second half is action-packed, violent and intense. 

The latter half feels as though it should be the climax of the movie; instead, it takes up a good chunk of the runtime, attempting to reveal context and backstory throughout the high points of action.

Because so much of the movie is spent focusing on action and intensity, the story’s context was not properly set up to make the plot compelling. If the story focused instead on slowly building the plot of Lou’s father’s shady crime life and Lou’s involvement in it, the ending would feel less like an unexpected dump of plot twists.

“Love Lies Bleeding” also falls short in its driving force: the romance between Lou and Jackie. Their relationship, and even their characters, are not fully fleshed out. Most of the scenes used to advance the audience’s view of their relationship only feature sex. 

Their emotional connection isn’t expounded upon enough for the audience to find their love to be compelling. While the film attempts to show their love through acts of service toward one another, such as how Lou separates Jackie’s egg yolks for her, these interactions fail to convince the audience of these character’s genuine connection.

Their romance is put on the back burner to grant more screen time to the complex action plot. There are many components – crime, domestic abuse, drug addiction, psychosis – but the film insists on acting as though romance should be its main focus.

Jackie’s character is complex, but we don’t know much about her backstory or her emotions. All we see is her descent into madness as she loses grip on reality and becomes obsessed with her strength. In the audience’s single opportunity to learn more about why Jackie is the way she is – on a phone call with an unknown child, potentially a younger sibling – all she tells them is to not fall in love.

Instead of allowing Jackie to develop a story and traits that could help the audience root for her, we are left only with the romance, which as already stated, isn’t developed enough to be compelling.

I do enjoy the aesthetic of the film. 

However, I wish they actually committed to this aesthetic. The majority of the film has a muted, artsy, small-town vibe which I enjoy. But, as the film progresses, the visuals include more sci-fi elements such as bulging muscles, distorting faces and an alien-esque birth.

While both of these aesthetics are cool, their lack of cohesion makes the film feel disjointed. They should have stuck to their guns – a reference to the heavy imagery of both weapons and muscles in the film.

While I do have my qualms with this film, there are still certain elements that are done well. 

The sound design in this film is a saving point. There are several electronic stings throughout that help build up an eerie tone crucial to the plot. 

There is also the only character I believe is fully developed: Daisy, played by Anna Baryshnikov. While a minor character, Baryshnikov’s performance adds a comedic element to the film. Daisy’s desperation is well done and makes her motives seem fully clear.

Another saving element of this film is Lou’s mullet. Stewart has already rocked this hairstyle with her portrayal of Joan Jett in “The Runaways,” and she perfectly suits the look in this film as well.

If you can get past half-baked elements and a few lines of corny dialogue – such as after an intense, important scene with Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) when Lou switches to an entirely casual tone and hits her with a “love ya sis” – then “Love Lies Bleeding” can be an entertaining watch.


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