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Kristen Stewart stars in neon-lit film-noir 'Love Lies Bleeding'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's hard to imagine a better title for a neon-lit film noir than "Love Lies Bleeding." A blood-soaked romance starring Kristen Stewart, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Critic Bob Mondello says it's a genre exercise with a twist.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: New Mexico, 1989 - the rural gym that Lou manages looks to be the only place locals can do anything besides drink, so strangers stick out. And today, Lou is dealing with two - an FBI agent asking questions about her gangster dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

ORION CARRINGTON: (As William O'Riley) How is your old man?

KRISTEN STEWART: (As Lou) My old man? We don't talk.

CARRINGTON: (As William O'Riley) Well, when you're feeling more friendly, give us a call.

MONDELLO: But Lou's more intrigued by the other stranger - an attractive woman bodybuilder named Jackie, who keeps meeting Lou's gaze even as she's being hit on by every man in the gym. At closing time, when a guy gets handsy, Jackie slugs him, and Lou steps in, though not quite fast enough to keep Jackie from getting a black eye.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

STEWART: (As Lou) You got to be careful around here. I'm telling you. That could've gone a lot worse.

KATY O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) I could take him.

STEWART: (As Lou) Oh. Sorry.

MONDELLO: Ice for the eye, conversation for the soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

STEWART: (As Lou) So where did you appear from?

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Oklahoma. I've been hitchhiking for a while now.

STEWART: (As Lou) You heading anywhere particular?

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Finals for this bodybuilding contest next month in Vegas.

STEWART: (As Lou) Cool.

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Most times when people hear that, I get this look like...

STEWART: (As Lou) Yeah, I think I know that look.

MONDELLO: And it's not the look they're exchanging now. Both women are clearly smitten - Jackie enough to ask if she can stay with Lou while training, Lou enough to offer Jackie free steroids to help her bulk up for Vegas. A first shot...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

STEWART: (As Lou) Feel it already? You're like, boom, boom - just all over, immediately, like Popeye.

MONDELLO: ...Is prelude to a kiss, and any ambiguity about where they're headed is pretty well dispelled.

Jackie, played by Katy O'Brian, does move in, and Lou continues to protect her. It's kind of Lou's thing. She's staying in town to protect her sister, who's married to a creep working at her father's gun range, which is where things get complicated because Jackie's already had sex with the creep to get work there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

DAVE FRANCO: (As JJ) This here's Jackie.

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Hi.

FRANCO: (As JJ) She needs a job - says she'll do anything.

ED HARRIS: (As Lou Sr.) Yeah? You like guns?

O'BRIAN: (As Jackie) Not really.

HARRIS: (As Lou Sr.) What the [expletive] you doing here, then?

MONDELLO: What she ends up doing here is waitressing, which Lou knows is a bad idea. But if people only had good ideas in film noir, it wouldn't be noir...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Lou Sr.) They found the body.

MONDELLO: ...Or bloody...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

ANNA BARYSHNIKOV: (As Daisy) Looks like you've got your hands full.

MONDELLO: ...Which is what "Love Lies Bleeding" will soon become.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

HARRIS: (As Lou Sr.) You'll regret this.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Rose Glass makes all of this steamy and sexy as well as suspenseful - a specifically queer take on the kind of story that straight characters have mostly had to themselves. And she's in full control of it through the Vegas contest and into the Lou-versus-her-dad contest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

STEWART: (As Lou) If you touch her, I'm going to tell them everything you ever did.

HARRIS: (As Lou Sr.) Are you threatening me?

STEWART: (As Lou) Yep.

MONDELLO: But the filmmaker has to go all sci-fi and hallucinatory to resolve things. It's as if the movie itself gets hopped up on steroids, which kind of shreds her final act.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

HARRIS: (As Lou Sr.) Call me when it's done.

MONDELLO: She's saved by her stars. Ed Harris, alarming just for his haircut, makes Lou's dad a coiled spring of a monster. Kristen Stewart keeps Lou agitated and calculating whether she's cleaning up gym bathrooms, crime scene bodies or missed signals about emotions.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE LIES BLEEDING")

STEWART: (As Lou) I love you, you idiot.

MONDELLO: By comparison, O'Brian's increasingly muscular Jackie is harder to read. But, in fairness, she gets so steroid-addled in "Love Lies Bleeding," even she doesn't know what she's thinking. So you root for them to beat the genre's long odds as bodies get rolled into rugs and thrown down crevasses. Maybe - just maybe - they can hang onto the love, get past the lies and the bleeding.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMALLTOWN BOY")

BRONSKI BEAT: (Singing) Cry, boy, cry. Cry, boy, cry. Cry, boy - cry, boy, cry. Cry, boy - cry, boy, cry. Cry, boy - cry, boy, cry. Cry, boy... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.