Pain and Gay-n

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brien posing on the truck they spend much of Love Lies Bleeding driving around

Sometimes the girlies deserve a little toxic crime romance, as a treat.

Going to the movies: sometimes it's just good clean fun. Although sometimes it's filthy pervert madness. And if you're a chaotic queer freak, well, those times are the same time.

Love Lies Bleeding is wholesome fun for the whole kinky polycule. I have never been in such a dyked up movie theater (outside of an explicitly queer event) as I was Sunday evening. Beanies for miles.

But as the lights went down I was also wary. I've been burned many times before by movies that get the "community" excited but then you watch it and it's like vapid bourgeois drama with basic representation and good production design. Or otherwise it's a mean-spirited gender-flip of common tropes that ends up fantasizing about a world where queers/women are just as toxic and powerful in the same way straights/men are, which for me are deeply depressing anti-utopian movies.

Love Lies Bleeding is certainly no pandering bourgeois romance, but nor is it a hetero/queer-pessimist game of bad opposites. These girls are toxic, but they are toxic in a genuine, understandable and kinky way that you rarely get to see girls, let alone gay girls, being at the cinema. They are full of desire, dreams and lust, but "messy" doesn't begin to get at it. It's a pretty excellent entertainment for the current moment: horny, anxious, gay af, almost apocalyptically violent, bizarre, nihilistic, and funny as hell.

(I did really like this movie, but I do want to get one major objection out of the way. While the movie handles a lot of pretty intense questions around desire, familial violence and domestic abuse in a frank and emotionally honest way, there is one ditzy character whose role as the object of ridicule, slapstick violence and disgust is, and there's no way around it, quite misogynistic. They almost threaded the needle on it but the very final sequence of the film is a needlessly cruel and nasty joke that feels straight out of a Tarantino movie, undercutting the transcendent scene that immediately preceded it. The film is charming enough that the joke is funny, and I was half-laughing along, queasily. I really hate when a movie seduces me into laughing at this kinda shit, and this moment tempered my pleasure and joy with a bit of real anger. OK.)

The film is the second movie from director Rose Glass, whose debut feature Saint Maud (2019) was one of the last really good movies from the "prestige horror" wave. In the intervening years, a good chunk of anglophone horror has settled into a pattern of reactionary anti-feminism and queerphobia – particularly embodied in a sublimated but not always very subtle trans-panic (Possessor, Lamb, Malignant, Smile, Beau is Afraid, Halloween Ends, The Outwaters etc.) – and if I once again promise an essay about reactionary horror is coming soon is it officially a bit? Probably need to do it one more time.

But there have also been a wave of films that are classified as horror, having moments of real brutal violence, body horror, supernatural goings on, disorientation and/or fear, but are such a delicious genre smoothie that it's just as easy to argue they're not really "horror" at all. And these films have been overwhelmingly queer, often trans narratives, and among the most unsettling. original and visually beautiful stuff coming out in the genre space. Among them is Titane, We're All Going to the World's Fair, Men, Bones and All, Flux Gourmet, Crimes of the Future and now Love Lies Bleeding.

Taking place in 1989, Love Lies Bleeding is about Texas small town gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) whose carefully balanced life is upended one day when competitive bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brien) shows up at the gym on her way to a Las Vegas bodybuilding championship. Jackie, a drifter with nowhere to go, Uhauls with Lou, and quickly gets entangled in the messy and increasingly violent criminal dynamics surrounding Lou, her sister's abusive husband, and their gun-range owning father.