Producers: Andrea Cornwell and Oliver Kassman   Director: Rose Glass   Screenplay: Rose Glass and Weronika Tofilska   Cast: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, Dave Franco, Orion Carrington, David DeLao and Ed Harris   Distributor: A24

Grade: B-

Calling this second film by British writer-director Rose Glass (“Saint Maud”) a lesbian neo-noir wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it would certainly be an incomplete description of a movie that goes so completely gonzo that it defies easy categorization.  Yet both in spite of and because of its gross-out wackiness, the lurid “Love Lies Bleeding” will stick with you, even if you’d prefer it didn’t.

The focal figure is Lou (Kristen Stewart), the manager of a gym in a small, seedy New Mexico town circa 1989.  She’s the estranged daughter of Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), the owner of a nearby gun range as well as the gym, and the local crime boss who smuggles guns and drugs, the cops in his pocket.  (He further proves his malignancy by his fascination with huge, disgusting insects.)  Lou stays around in part out of concern for her browbeaten sister Beth (Jena Malone), who’s devoted to her brutal husband JJ (Dave Franco). He manages the gun range for Lou Sr. and is quick to take out his anger on his wife. 

Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is new in town, an Oklahoma bodybuilder making her way to a contest in Las Vegas.  One of the first people she encounters is JJ, with whom she has sex in his car; she also gets a job at the gun range.  Then she goes to the gym, where she catches Lou’s eye.  Lou invites Jackie to move in with her and offers her steroids to help in bulking up, and the two are soon very close. 

But the steroids have a terrible effect on Jackie.  They do bulk her up—an outcome Glass depicts in surrealistically garish style, using visual tricks to show her muscles literally expanding and veins throbbing as she grows to enormous size.  But they also send her into rages, especially after JJ takes out his anger on Beth.  As his victim lies in the hospital badly injured, Jackie takes horrible retribution—you’re bound to flinch when, in a momentary shot, Glass shows just how horrible.

Having grown up with a father who knows how to dispose of bodies, Lou follows his example, but not carefully enough; and Lou Sr., feeling himself threatened by what she’s done, gets involved himself, threatening anyone he considers a danger.  Even the local police chief (David DeLao) will follow his instructions.  While Lou deals with this mess at home—including an investigation by an intrusive FBI agent (Orion Carrington) looking for Lou’s mother—Jackie hitches a ride to Las Vegas for the bodybuilding contest, during which the steroids kick in again with grotesquely hallucinatory results.

But there’s a further wrinkle.  Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov), a clingy addict obsessed with Lou, has observed something that provides clout to blackmail her.  A shocking twist means yet more corpses to deal with as Lou Sr. takes an increasingly direct role in the chaos and becomes ever more menacing.  It’s at his mansion in the desert that a final confrontation plays out; he’s left writhing while Lou and Jackie drive off in a twisted parody of Thelma and Louise.

A précis can only hint at the wild grindhouse vibe of Glass’ film, with its loony plotting, outlandish characters, striking effects and flamboyantly over-the-top cinematography by Ben Fordesman, whose use of gaudy colors in the phantasmagoric sequences contrasts starkly with the grubbiness of Katie Hickman’s production design (complete with crudely “encouraging” signs on the gym walls) and Olga Mill’s costumes.  Glass and editor Mark Towns are fearless in mixing all the disparate elements together, and Clint Mansell contributes an electronic score as pulverizing as the visuals.  Paul Davies’ eclectic sound design is also noteworthy.

Of course, all the style in the world wouldn’t matter if the cast didn’t give itself over to the material with absolute conviction.  Stewart’s combination of mousiness and grit under pressure works splendidly here, while O’Brian looks every bit the muscled bodybuilder; the sex scenes they share are extremely erotic, too.  Malone and Baryshnikov are both pathetically needy in their different ways, while Franco exudes smug nastiness—until he suddenly turns craven.  Harris, though, easily outdoes him with his air of calm cruelty (and his long, stringy hair).

If drive-ins and midnight movie emporia were still in vogue, this overripe extravaganza of sex and gore would be an obvious choice for the management.  As it is, those with strong stomachs (and working showers for afterwards) will have to seek it out in more conventional venues; but they’re likely to find the effort worthwhile.