Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Muscles, menace in a 'noirish' thriller


   It would be a serious mistake to mess with Jackie (Katy O'Brian), an Oklahoma woman who has pointed her life toward winning a Las Vegas body-building competition.
   Jackie's the dynamite that propels director Rose Glass's Love Lies Bleeding, a seamy noir tangle set in New Mexico in 1989.
  A convincing Kristen Stewart — as a woman frantically trying to control the unmanageable — plays the central role of Lou, a chain-smoker who works in the grungy gym where Jackie turns up to pump iron. 
 Lou’s duties include cleaning the toilets, which could be read as both an exercise in degradation and an act of penance for as yet undisclosed sins.
  Sex looms as Lou and Jackie tumble into a heated relationship. But Glass (Saint Maud) has more in mind than an obsessive love story; she's out to pump adrenalin into an exaggerated helping of Neo Noir while injecting it with a healthy shot of cult-classic juice.
   A well-selected supporting cast adds to the grimy atmospherics. Dave Franco portrays JJ, a bully who, early in the movie, has sex with an indifferent Jackie. She hopes he'll help her get by. A first-order sleaze, JJ later beats up his wife (Jena Malone), who happens to be Lou's sister. 
  Revenge looms, and Jackie provides it in a gripping scene made more vicious because by the time it arrives, Jackie has been shooting massive quantities of the steroids Lou provides for her.
  Watching Jackie's muscles bulge brings the Hulk to mind; her strength becomes a near special effect. Her fury can't be controlled; her spring-loaded muscles crack to attention. 
 A bit of comic relief arrives in the form of Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), a ditzy woman with an undisguised crush on Lou and a refusal to take "no" for an answer.
  Roid rage and noir make for a combustible combination as Lou's gun-running father (Ed Harris) lurks in the background, gradually assuming a more important role in the story. 
  With stringy hair drooping over the sides and back of his bald dome, Harris goes satanic, creating a stand-out figure, the menacing calm at the center of every storm. 
  When the finale arrives, the film rockets over the top in ways that either will amuse you or put you off, perhaps an inviting mix of both. 
   Love Lies Bleeding may encourage you to expand your thoughts about female bodies, but it's firmly rooted in Glass's desire to blast her way into an overcrowded genre -- and do it with boldness and audacity. 

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