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A Return to Murderous Lesbians

A review of Love Lies Bleeding

Upcoming films featuring same-sex desire are frequently met with feverish excitement and anticipation from members of the queer community. The buzz is usually followed by polarizing commentary that attempts to decide the film’s place in the queer film catalogue, regardless of how recently the film came out. Since its release on March 14, Rose Glass’s lesbian thriller Love Lies Bleeding has been similarly received through this model.

The internet’s sapphic community has cast Love Lies Bleeding in a largely positive light, entranced by the film’s adrenaline-inducing body horror and eroticism. As a proponent of all things lesbian, I wanted to love the film as much as the internet was telling me to. I wanted to fall head first into the Kristen Stewart fandom and to deep dive into Glass’s euphoric use of 1980s pop culture. But I just couldn’t: not for the full film at least.

Love Lies Bleeding’s cinematic landscape and cast performances create a compelling direction for the story. As an A24 film, the arthouse aesthetic is undoubtedly alluring. The film takes place in the liminal setting of a New Mexican desert town filled with criminals, psychopaths, and gym buffs. Lou (Kristen Stewart) works as a gym manager and falls for Jackie (Katy M. O’Brian), a bodybuilder passing through town on her way to pursue her dreams in Las Vegas. The characters themselves are equally compelling, with mysterious, largely covert backstories and hot-headed temperaments, ramming through any obstacle or challenge in their way.

The first third of Love Lies Bleeding has high potential. However, I found the latter two thirds to be too reliant on genre conventions that only distract from any concrete plot or meaning. After Jackie temporarily moves in with Lou, the film strays from their relationship to Lou’s family lore – a complex web of crime and deceit held together by her ringleader father. As a result of this narrative shift, the women’s budding character development is flattened, and any explanation for their actions or inner motivations is lost. It seems that all we will ever find out about Jackie is that she’s an avid bodybuilder. Furthermore, Lou and Jackie’s relationship gets sidelined and commandeered by men until the film’s confusing final moments, when Jackie turns into a giant to pin down Lou’s father once and for all.

Despite receiving praise for subverting the “male gaze,” the film seems to do just the opposite, falling into the same fetishistic trap that plagues so many other WLW films. The six single men who sat in front of me at the Cineplex Forum’s Friday night screening only reinforced my initial impression: this film may have been written about queer women, but it was not a film made for them.

Love Lies Bleeding displays women’s bodies without establishing necessary empathy between the characters and the viewer. A quick search on the voyeuristic qualities of the film led me to find numerous news articles about men who had been arrested in the last week for lewd behaviour while viewing Love Lies Bleeding in theatres. Remarkably, these articles haven’t really been acknowledged on TikTok or other social media platforms. The behaviour of these male viewers, and how quickly it has been ignored, says a lot about the politics of lesbian representation and moviegoing.

While this doesn’t seem like any fault of the film inherently, I was surprised by how quick people were to praise its representation and to remark upon how amazing Lou and Jackie’s relationship was when the couple spent the majority of the film either trying to kill each other or having sex. It felt almost performative, like the sex scenes were only put in to appease the viewer and substitute an actual foundation for the characters’ relationship.

The release of this film was an unfortunate reminder that lesbian films have not been able to escape objectification and fetishization by men unless they explicitly critique patriarchal and heteronormative expectations (I would argue the recent queer film Bottoms was more effective at achieving this). But of course, not every lesbian film should be expected to offer some sort of critique in order to be taken seriously. While it’s important that both characters survive and presumably stay together, to emphasize such an ending feels like commending the bare minimum of a film that leaves other elements of queer representation unexplored. All this to say, Love Lies Bleeding is an entertaining experience from an intriguing filmmaker with an obvious body-horror speciality. I am curious to see more of these elements in whatever Rose Glass decides to create next.