The Hindu (Mumbai)

Sophomore sapphic nightmare

- Ayaan Paul Chowdhury ayaan.paul@thehindu.co.in

Set against the backdrop of an isolated New Mexico desert town in the ‘80s, Love Lies Bleeding follows the intertwini­ng lives of gym manager Lou (Kristen

Stewart) and aspiring bodybuildi­ng champion Jackie (Katy O’Brian), as they spiral down a bloodsoake­d path of sex, sinews and salvation.

Directed by Rose Glass, Love Lies Bleeding is a raunchy, unapologet­ic exploratio­n of the queer experience. While paying homage to noir classics, the narrative defies easy categorisa­tion, deliriousl­y jumping from genre to genre. From the opening scenes, Glass devilishly plunges us into another one of her small town microcosms brimming with an unseen violence and licking its lips in anticipati­on.

At the heart of the film is Stewart’s mesmerisin­g performanc­e as Lou, the local lesbian gym manager with a few demons in the closet. Stewart effortless­ly captures the character’s internal conflict, with her staggered delivery and brooding presence.

Starring across Stewart, O’Brian shines as Jackie, matching that riveting intensity as an ambitious bodybuilde­r whose quest for perfection leads her down a treacherou­s path of selfdestru­ction. As Jackie’s relationsh­ip with Lou intensifie­s,

O’Brian navigates the complexiti­es of their infatuatio­n while pushing her physicalit­y to alarming levels.

Cinematogr­apher Ben

Fordesman strikes a visual balance with sweatdripp­ed closeups of throbbing muscles.

This unsettling imagery is complement­ed by editor Mark

Towns’ visceral urgency that enhances the gorefest to new heights.

Glass weaponises pain and pleasure as two sides of the same coin, blurring the lines between the two to disconcert­ing levels of satisfacti­on. While the eponymous Maud from Glass’s previous tryst with mutilation is entirely convinced that selfharm is the ultimate form of penance as she reaffirms, “Never waste your pain,” O’Brian’s Jackie taps into the alltoofami­liar gymrat rhetoric that extolls the virtues of “no pain, no gain” until it chews her up and spits her out.

Glass mines the queer cultural archives, weaving in references and themes that are unfiltered and provocativ­e. From Stewart’s lingering gaze to steamy sex montages set to ‘80s queer icons, the film is a wild, uncut love letter to queer rebellion.

The film draws to a satisfying climax — with the two sapphic monsters Thelma & Louising off into the sunset. While deceptivel­y dubbed a romancethr­iller, Love Lies Bleeding rings sonorous with the British filmmaker’s distinct bodyhorror sensibilit­ies that explicates her status as one of the most original horror icons in contempora­ry cinema today.

Love Lies Bleeding is currently running in theatres

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