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Attack of the Killer Lesbians

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Anna Kooris/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

“Saint Maud” auteur Rose Glass returns with something more deliberately A24-y, a gonzo pulp fully in the mode of ’70s grindhouse and its ’90s Quentin Tarantino-led renaissance. Ms. Glass disclosed at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Love Lies Bleeding” that she originally set it in Scotland, but the story just makes much more sense in the States. She ain’t wrong. This toxic mix of unhinged bloodlust and sleazy softcore is basically cinematic apple pie.

The film is set in 1989, a time when mullets were so omnipresent even dykes wore ’em. Lou (Kristen Stewart) works a dead-end job at Crater Gym where she has to laminate membership cards and unclog a very backed-up toilet by hand while shirtless dudes pump iron. She gently fends off romantic advances from the clingy Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), the dumbest blonde femme lesbian the world has ever known, but obviously that doesn't go over too well.

Jackie (Katy O’Brian), who has barely set foot in town, promptly gets her plan in motion, performing sexual favors in a car in exchange for a job lead at a shooting range. She ultimately wants to go to Las Vegas to enter a body building contest, so she also needs somewhere to train. Conveniently, she catches the eye of Lou, who’ll hook her up with a gym, a place to stay, egg whites, doping supplies and all the fornication between two women permissible under an R-rating.

Their relationship hits the rocks when they dine out with Lou’s sister, Beth (Jena Malone), and her husband, J.J. (Dave Franco), who took Jackie from behind in the car earlier. As Lou confronts J.J. about the bruise on Beth’s face, he lets Lou know about Jackie’s sexual fluidity and suggests that Jackie and Lou’s relationship is one of convenience. Lou’s understandably hurt, but the confluence of events sends Jackie into a fit of roid rage and turns her into She-Hulk, more or less. The body count starts from there.

Above all, the film is a taut thriller. There are edge-of-your-seat moments strewn throughout, the most memorable being Daisy, an accidental witness to Lou and Jackie in the act, blackmailing Lou into a relationship – perhaps she’s smarter and more cunning than she lets on. And of course, proper disposal of bodies is a recurring issue not entirely resolved even during the end credits.

Thematically, the sex, violence and mayhem are all emblematic of grindhouse. While there’s very little gore to speak of, what’s there is absolutely deranged and over the top. Ms. Stewart and Ms. O’Brian share some racy scenes, yet not one of them feels exploitative in the manner of the film’s counterparts from back in the day, or “Blue Is the Warmest Color” for that matter. Perhaps it’s due to Ms. Glass’s female gaze; these scenes just don’t seem to be aiming at incels or hormonal teenage boys.

Before the film properly announces its period setting at the venue of the body building contest, there have already been many giveaways. The production design and makeup teams expertly conjure the proper atmosphere with liberal uses of spandex and yes, those mullets. Even Ed Harris, who plays Lou’s estranged father, gets to wear one.

The filmmaking itself registers as far more contemporary. The cutaways used to illustrate the characters’ state of mind are simple – just them under a red filter against a black background – yet they seem very sleek and bring to mind, of all things, “A Serbian Film.” Unlike Mr. Tarantino, Ms. Glass forgoes period techniques like the crash zoom. The images are crisp and unmistakably digital.

Like all the best queer movies, “Love Lies Bleeding” is horny, messy and unapologetic. It’s about time someone takes the baton from Gregg Araki and helps carry on our movie tradition.

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