Love Lies Bleeding review – Kristen Stewart lifts brilliant bodybuilding noir

Love Lies Bleeding review – Kristen Stewart lifts brilliant bodybuilding noir

British film-maker Rose Glass lets rip with some pure roid-rage cinema in this uproarious, horribly violent and lethally smart noir thriller sited in the Venn diagram overlap between bodybuilding, murder and sex. The bodycount climbs so alarmingly that the characters are in danger of running out of rugs to roll the corpses up in.

Glass has assembled a great cast – but first among equals has to be Kristen Stewart who gives an excellent performance as gym manager and twitchy nicotine addict Lou, embroiled in an amour fou. Why aren’t we talking more, or in fact all the time, about what a great actress Stewart is? Her snapping: “No!” in a tense situation and thereby refusing to let herself have a cigarette from a stray pack, is one of the laugh lines of the year.

Love Lies Bleeding channels Elmore Leonard in its garish tale of forbidden love, chaotic crime and gnarly incidental characters with bad hair and bad attitudes, but Glass and her co-writer Weronika Tofilska playfully give us some Jonathan Swift in having Gulliver’s Travels on the TV in one shot, and then giving us a surreal Brobdingnagian freakout in the climactic confrontation.

The setting is a town in the New Mexico desert – a Breaking Bad-type landscape striated with dangerous ravines – and the date is 1989, though you might not notice the absence of smartphones until news about the Berlin Wall crops up in one scene. Lou is employed at a gym, whose walls are plastered with two kinds of poster: the ones disclaiming legal responsibility for equipment-related injuries and the ones telling you to push yourself, because pain is just weakness leaving the body. Sadly, many characters are to experience that other and more commonplace kind of pain which is weakness entering the body.

Lou’s life has been about banal workplace tasks such as unblocking the lavatories, but is suddenly exalted by the lightning strike of love. A new customer called Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is passing through on her way to the bodybuilding championships in Las Vegas: ripped, tough and devastatingly sexy. They fall in love, and Lou fatefully introduces Jackie to steroids. Meanwhile, federal officers are inquiring about Lou’s estranged father Lou Sr (Ed Harris) and both Lou and Jackie boil with rage about the way Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is being beaten up her odious husband JJ (Dave Franco), for whom a reckoning is on its way.

For a film as over-the-top as this, it might be counterintuitive to talk about subtlety, but Stewart is genuinely that; her line readings are coolly calibrated, quizzical, restrained, sometimes infinitesimally double-taking at the bizarre or outrageous things happening in front of her. Her lack of obvious response is due to being herself much tougher than we quite realised. Harris is queasily gruesome as Lou Sr, a gun-club manager and insect enthusiast who is also the proprietor of a hilariously grand hacienda featuring a portrait of himself and Lou’s stepmother. This could be a new grindhouse classic; in this world, love is bleeding but it’s not taking anything lying down.