What To Watch: "Love Lies Bleeding"

Plus: Recommended movies, new and old, for all the major platforms.

What To Watch: "Love Lies Bleeding"
Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in "Love Lies Bleeding"

Welcome to the weekend, the first in the post-Oscar exhale. There’s an excellent new arthouse action-thriller opening wide that confirms the potential of a young filmmaker, plus some of last year’s best are newly arrived on streaming platforms. I’ve grouped recommendations by the major subscription services, trying to stick to the rubric of one new film and one worthy semi-oldie.

But first, that action-thriller, “Love Lies Bleeding” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2), which leaps into the public arena after slaying ‘em at Sundance. Two things to note. First, the movie positions director Rose Glass as a major talent: possessed of a subversive knack for story and casting and able to simultaneously respect genre and deconstruct it. Second, I know Kristen Stewart still has doubters who refuse to take the one-time “Twilight” star seriously as an actress, but if you watch this film and can’t see the ease and professionalism and insistence with which she holds the screen, I just can’t help you. Stewart combines seeming affectlessness with intense presence in a way that feels wholly new, and "Love Lies Bleeding" adds layers of empathy and ferocity that make me think the actress is turning into that rare thing, a female Brando. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about the film when I sat it in Park City in January:

“Love Lies Bleeding” is thrillingly not nice – a lost lesbian Jim Thompson 50’s noir amped up on muscle juice, mean as a snake, and directed, I mean DIRECTED, by Rose Glass within a thrashing inch of its life. The British-born and -raised Glass made a startling debut with “Saint Maud” (2019), about a delusional young Christian evangelical (Morfydd Clarke) in Yorkshire, and Glass mentioned in the Saturday night’s post-screening Q&A that the new film was almost filmed in Scotland. Hard to believe, since this hard-boiled crime romance seems made for its seamy, sweaty New Mexico setting. Kristen Stewart plays Lou, the grease-stained manager of a weight-lifting gym who takes one look at new girl in town Jackie (Katy O’Brian of TV’s “The Mandalorian”) and falls hard and fast. Jackie is breezing through and bulking up on her way to a body-building contest in Vegas; Lou wants to follow but is staying around to protect her big sister (Jena Malone) from an abusive husband (Dave Franco, splendidly loathsome). Lurking on the movie’s fringes is Ed Harris as Lou’s father, the local crime kingpin and, with his Crypt-Keeper hairdo, a genuinely malevolent force.
Ed Harris in "Love Lies Bleeding"
Those are the players, and Glass keeps the tension as taut as a garrote while events tumble inevitably out of control, Jackie’s newfound taste for anabolic steroids affecting her emotional stability in … unpredictable ways. (The movie is set in 1989, around the time several “’roid-rage” incidents occurred in the bodybuilding world.)
Glass is the real deal – a natural-born filmmaker who takes risks, respects her genres, and possesses an intuitive daring that propels “Love Lies Bleeding” forward, goosed by moments of shocking violence but grounded by the magnetic attraction of its two central figures. Stewart digs into her character’s wary resourcefulness – Lou doesn’t look like much but she’s the town’s moral center – and O’Brian is superb as a footloose free spirit who becomes an incredible female hulk, a metamorphosis Glass takes to surrealist extremes in the film’s final moments. “Love Lies Bleeding” commits completely to its vision of neo-pulp fiction with a ferocity that sometimes turns uneven and sometimes goes too far – it’ll turn off a fair handful of viewers, but you never doubt you’re in the hands of a master.

My favorite film of 2023, “Poor Things” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐), is now streaming free on Hulu and can be rented for $5.99 on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube, and elsewhere; like “Love Lies Bleeding,” it’s not for the faint of heart, but Emma Stone deserves her Oscar, and the film represents unbounded creativity firing on all cylinders.

And how about this? My second-favorite film of 2023 has just come to VOD, too: Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐, a $5.99 rental on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube, and elsewhere), with its pellucid lead performance by Koji Yakusho as a Tokyo toilet cleaner at peace with the world. It’s almost the exact opposite of “Poor Things,” and isn’t the cinema a rich and wonderful thing to be able to enfold both extremes in its embrace?

More recommendations:

On Netflix: