Love Lies Bleeding: How Rose Glass Created the Sexiest Film of the Year

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Love Lies Bleeding, 2024
Love Lies Bleeding, 2024(Film still)

As Love Lies Bleeding is released in UK cinemas, director Rose Glass talks about working with Kristen Stewart, and portraying honest sex on screen

“There’s a kind of brooding anti-hero quality to Kristen Stewart,” says Rose Glass, director of Love Lies Bleeding – a film co-written by Glass and Weronika Tofilska with the American actor (who brought a restless, rugged energy to indie films like Personal Shopper and Spencer) in mind. “I like the idea of her being a steamy, greasy heartthrob.”

Stewart is exactly that in Glass’ petroleum-black, heady, sweaty midnight movie about “falling in lust”, taking on the role of washed-up gym manager Lou. Her time is divided between unblocking the gym’s toilets or avoiding the mythical town of Crater’s many unsavoury inhabitants – including her gun-toting, bug-loving, ‘skullet’-flaunting father (Lou Sr), a crime lord who buries his many sins in a gaping desert canyon. 

Lou remains trapped in this grim reality until the magisterial, impressively ripped Jackie (played with an endearing vulnerability by newcomer Katy O’Brian) arrives on the scene like a bolt of lightning, en route to a bodybuilding competition. Clad in bubble-gum shades, she embodies a fresh innocence that is quickly eclipsed when Lou gets her hooked on steroids – and love. What ensues is a crimson-soaked, cosmic queer romance packed with riffs off various B-movie genres, from nods to noir to flashes of Cronenbergian body horror. 

“If you ground a film in certain elements and ingredients that audiences are familiar with, it gives you a bit more leeway to push things further or to take people to unexpected places, hopefully,” says Glass, acknowledging the connective tissue between her sophomore feature and her debut Saint Maud, a Morfydd Clark-starring horror on religious fanaticism that keeps you in its chokehold. “There are rules you can then subvert.”

One of the more unexpected subgenres to surface was sci-fi, underpinned by the film’s “twinkly”, synth-heavy score. (Gay porn composer Patrick Cowley soundtracks the sex scenes.) “I’d started to think of the characters as these little lost aliens who find each other,” says the director. “All the shots of stars only came in post[-production], once we started to put particular music cues in.”

Around these star-crossed lovers, Glass began to map out Crater’s numerous residents and locations. Ed Harris as Lou Sr exudes terror (despite his luxurious hair extensions) and runs the gun range Louville – narcissistically christened after himself. “Louville turned out to be the name of a crater on the moon,” says Glass. “That’s why we called the town Crater, which fit nicely with one of the key locations in the film: this giant crack in the earth out in the desert. That place that we shot it in, which was a gypsum mine, looks just like the surface of the moon.” 

Each character could be plucked straight from an 80s comic book: a mullet-sporting Dave Franco as JJ, the abusive husband of Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone); and Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), Lou’s hanger-on, teeth stained brown using visual effects. Then there’s Lou herself – Stewart at her most bedraggled, with stormy grey rings around her eyes. “That’s just what she looks like,” says Glass with a laugh. “We did accentuate them. We start the film with Lou stuck in a rut, hating the town that she grew up in but has never left. We wanted all the characters around her to have this slightly seedy, unpleasant, greasy sheen to them, so that when this handsome stranger [Jackie] waltzes into town, she completely takes Lou’s breath away.”

At its pumping heart, Love Lies Bleeding takes the figure of the female bodybuilder to coax out themes of body dysmorphia, dichotomies of good and evil and our murky impulses. “Cinema is a fun place to explore all the more sinister, repressed urges that humans have,” Glass explains. 

With its propulsion towards blood-spattering vengeance, the film also debunks the archetype of the ‘strong female character’, complicating the notion that some onscreen violence is justice when it’s the “good guys” enacting it. Glass adds: “There’s this self-conscious way in which people will talk about wanting to have more strong female characters and female empowerment and them being badass – which is a phrase I really hate – and somehow it being okay if women are doing [violence]. Violence is shitty and awful whoever does it. But essentially humans are very good at justifying stuff themselves if it gets them what they want.”

Despite this, there’s a glee in seeing literal patriarchy-crushing violence play out onscreen. Love Lies Bleeding occupies a sweet spot between dreaminess and grit – anchored by Crash, Showgirls and Saturday Night Fever as influences – resulting in a form of cinematic “wish fulfilment”. Part of this became removing the male gaze from portrayals of queer sex, leaning into the electric chemistry between its two leads. “From the point of [Katy] being cast to being on set was a couple of weeks,” says Glass. “Within a few days, Kristen Stewart’s sucking her toe.

“In a lot of cinema, the filmmakers hurry out of the scene as if the sex itself isn’t important or relevant to the story,” Glass continues, speaking on the unhealthily “twisty” dynamics between Lou and Jackie. “Sometimes it’s more interesting to figure out how you can explore dynamics between characters when they’re not necessarily saying words. There’s more variety in sex that could be explored in cinema. Sometimes it’s a bit homogenized, which has to do with choreographing things so they look good for the camera, particularly women’s bodies – whereas, in real life, people don’t necessarily look their most elegant and sexy when they’re actually having sex.”

There’s a visceral quality to be found elsewhere in this bold, brawny feature. In one scene, Harris’ character takes out his rage on one of his beloved bugs by champing down on one – with the actor really snacking on shop-bought insects. “Even shots before that when we didn’t need him to be eating bugs, he was noshing down whole handfuls of little beetles, just to get into the zone or something,” says Glass.

Ultimately, Love Lies Bleeding is a tale of “parasitic love” and corruption. Lou, Glass asserts, is a charismatic “arsehole”, while Jackie is “weirdly the most pure, innocent one in the film – although I’ve got great affection for all of the other greasy people who populate Love Lies Bleeding.”

Love Lies Bleeding is out in UK cinemas now.