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There is a lot to like in the new thriller LOVE LIES BLEEDING, from the performances to its edge-of-your-seat dread to a complex love story at its center. Still, as the story progresses, its excesses start to overwhelm matters and its third act turns into a discordant mix of craziness, gore and fantasy. Director Rose Glass and her co-screenwriter Weronika Tofilska clearly want to push the audience’s buttons, and they certainly do, but it’s a style of provocation that edges toward the unintentionally laughable at times. It may be a film about wildly undisciplined characters, but the film feels too unwieldy at times as well.

The first clue that Glass wants to get under our skin occurs within seconds of the film’s opening. Lou (Kristen Stewart) is in charge of a run-down gym in a mid-80s border town and to convey the dilapidation, Glass shows us a close-up of a stopped-up toilet so laden with filth, it’s unseemly. It feels more scatological than logical to shock us in such a way, but it cues us that this film is going to be more than a little “out there.” Nonetheless, Lou takes care of this overflowing eyesore while barely batting an eyelash.

That’s because messier affairs fill her daily routine. Lou doesn’t draw a line between her professional and private life, bedding customers including a new homeless gal in town named Jackie (Katy O’Brien). Jackie may be a homeless drifter, but the gym rat has big dreams, itching to do whatever it takes to become a bodybuilding champion in Vegas. Jackie’s animal magnetism proves to be catnip for Lou who wastes little time in moving Jackie into her seedy apartment to play house and start a relationship built on lust and co-dependency.

Unfortunately, Jackie turns out to be more than a handful. She’s on steroids and carries a chip on her shoulder a mile wide. Lou’s already frazzled enough as it is with a sister Beth (Jenna Malone) who’s regularly beaten by her loathsome hubby JJ (Dave Franco), and an estranged father (a ponytailed Ed Harris) who just so happens to be the town’s gun-running and drug-dealing kingpin.

All that character angst gives Stewart ample opportunity to flex her acting chops and she gives a rattled, edgy, tour de force. Her Lou is both a bitter cynic and a blind romantic. But as the film progresses, Lou’s life becomes so insane that her plight seems to resemble more of a Coen Brothers dark comedy playing at the edge of cartoony-ness. And when the final act starts incorporating all kinds of increasingly nutty twists and turns, let alone a ginormous fantasy sequence, the film feels like it’s stopped telling a story and has started straining merely to be outrageous.

Thankfully, Ed Harris underplays his baddie, even reaching levels of poignancy in his characterization as he attempts to reconnect with his family. O’Brien, on the other hand, overplays her role far too often, becoming so strident at times that you’ll wish Stewart’s Lou would just get in her pickup and drive away. And when corpses start to pile up, you’ll question whether Lou might just be too cra-cra as well to root for.

LOVERS LIE BLEEDING is often exceedingly clever and involving, but as it becomes broader and bloodier, the excess starts to fray the narrative. It feels like the filmmakers wanted to go for broke, and indeed, they ended up breaking a very good thing they had going at the start.

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