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Kristen Stewart, Anna Baryshnikov, Rose Glass, Katy O’Brian, and Jena Malone pose in front of a white 2024 Sundance Film Festival backdrop.

“Love Lies Bleeding” Throbs With Romance, Violence, and Flesh

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: (L–R) Kristen Stewart, Anna Baryshnikov, Rose Glass, Katy O’Brian, and Jena Malone attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Love Lies Bleeding” premiere at Eccles Theatre. (Photo by Robin Marshall/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Annie Lyons

Kristen Stewart faces off against a clogged toilet in the opening minutes of the bombastic Love Lies Bleeding. When she attempts a flush, the perspective flips to a close-up of the bowl’s bodily contents, a shot that sends a ripple of gasps and moans throughout the crowd at the Eccles Theatre in Park City, Utah. It’s only the first of many approvingly visceral reactions during the January 20 premiere of director Rose Glass’ tale of love, sex, violence, obsession, and muscle. 

The propulsive thriller follows Stewart’s Lou, an isolated gym employee living in small-town New Mexico who finds new romance with drifter Jackie (a magnetic Katy O’Brian), a bisexual bodybuilder with big dreams for an upcoming competition. The two fall fast and hard for each other. But, complications ensue as Jackie enmeshes herself in Lou’s family, including her eccentric gun-smuggling father (Ed Harris), beloved sister (Jena Malone), and abusive brother-in-law (Dave Franco). 

Screening in the Midnight section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, the film is unafraid to take swerves into the brutal and the surreal — many of which feel better left unsaid but had the late-night Eccles audience squirming, gasping, and cheering. 

During the post-premiere Q&A, Glass credits her phenomenal cast for capturing the singular script she wrote with Weronika Tofilska. Gesturing at the ensemble beside her, she says, “Everybody up here just also really took kind of a risk — I mean, I’m glad you guys liked it — to do some ridiculous stuff. I just knew [the film] had to be grounded in performances that just felt very real and lived in and balanced out the craziness. Everyone just went with it and never looked at me like ‘Ehhhhhh, really?’ which is a nice feeling.” 

“I just wouldn’t do that,” replies Stewart in a jokingly haughty voice that’s met with laughter. When asked about how the performers approached balancing the tone, she grows earnest, saying, “Listen to the director. Yeah, we’re not the ones holding that, you know? I must say the script is totally different. She’s such a sculptor. I definitely trusted her when she was like, ‘Go in, go berserk’ or ‘Be real in this moment.’ I think it all came from a place of discovery and love and telling yourself any story to justify loving something.”

Gesturing toward her stomach, she continues, “We all have these horrible little monsters in here.” With that sentiment, she pointedly turns to Glass with raised eyebrows and trails off, provoking another round of laughter. Stewart continues, “I was so curious! When we first started really rehearsing and talking about some things, I was like, ‘Rose… what are you like?’ I still have so many questions. I’m still mining for those details. How did you do it?” 

“Lots and lots of people helped,” Glass answers with a smile.

Rose Glass stands at a podium and speaks into a microphone against a black backdrop.
Writer-director Rose Glass introduces the premiere of “Love Lies Bleeding.” (Photo by Robin Marshall/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

Naturally, that includes O’Brian. Since the actor used to compete as a bodybuilder herself, the physical demands of the role didn’t faze her; if anything, she makes the intense training process sound deceptively simple. “It wasn’t that hard, especially because I didn’t have to really do much. I didn’t have to weigh my food anymore. Someone else did that. It was awesome. I just had to pop it in the microwave and eat it,” she says. “I had a trainer write out all my [workout] plans, so all I had to do was just go home and do it. It’s what I would probably be doing after set anyway, except maybe not as long. Hire a trainer! Otherwise, it just sucks.”

Though O’Brian minimizes the hard work, Glass stresses the actor’s commitment. “I’m just going to emphasize that obviously we were doing a full shoot and then it’s just insane that Katy was just going in and training three hours every day on top of that, so thank you very much,” she says, with cheers from the audience co-signing her appreciation. 

“What was really cool is like Oliver [Kassman], one of the producers, came and worked out with me sometimes. I had support from the set too. People wanted to come and train with me. One of our props girls was a mad powerlifter,” O’Brian adds. “It was a really cool, supportive environment, and I did not do it alone.”

To see more of the magic from the 2024 Festival, click here.