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Cast member Kristen Stewart and director Rose Glass attend a premiere for the film Love Lies Bleeding in Beverly Hills, Calif. on March 5.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

British filmmaker Rose Glass loves to make audiences writhe in their seats. In her debut feature, 2019′s wonderfully disturbed horror film Saint Maud, the director pushed straight past the limits of cinematic squirm to deliver a movie best viewed through the spaces between your fingers. But with her splashy follow-up, Love Lies Bleeding, Glass digs deeper to uncover new, born-in-the-U.S.A. levels of filth that will leave you both disgusted and exhilarated.

Set in the late ‘80s, Glass’s new film follows the anxious romance between reclusive New Mexico gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) and the enigmatic drifter Jackie (Katy O’Brian), the latter of whom dreams of becoming a professional bodybuilder. Quickly after the two connect, though, both are thrown into a darkly comic cycle of ultraviolence, spurred in part by the actions of Lou’s father (Ed Harris), a local gun runner.

Ahead of Love Lies Bleeding’s Canadian release next week, The Globe and Mail spoke with Glass and Stewart to talk about sex, death and muscles.

There is a wonderful sense of grime and filth to this film that feels extremely tied to a certain period of ‘80s Americana. So it kind of surprised me then, that there were initial discussions to set this in Glasgow.

Rose Glass: That was just in the very beginning, when I was brainstorming with my co-writer, Weronika Tofilska. I was thinking where possibly in the U.K. I could set it, because I was quite intimidated by the idea of doing an American movie. I could picture the Scottish version of these characters, but quickly after we started developing the story, with all the guns and muscles, America felt like the only place.

Was it always going to be set in that ‘80s time period?

Glass: We shuffled that around a little bit, but it came down to how we wanted it to be set before everyone was on social media. These characters are isolated in their small towns, and not being able to connect with people on social media heightens that kind of isolation. And setting something in the past gives you a slight sense of removal from reality – things take on a more mythological, fable kind of feel.

Kristen, how much of this was wanting to work with Rose and how much the opportunity to just play around in this thoroughly nasty environment?

Kristen Stewart: Rose was the jumping off point, absolutely. But also it was about playing somebody who is so impotent and internalized, and then gets to fall in love, which is always a crazy experience for anyone. It’s about believing in something that doesn’t exist, like ghosts – this ephemeral idea that drives you to the edge, where you might kill or die for it. The movie also doesn’t make you attempt to feel comfortable at all. We’re part of an industry where the main question for us is constantly, “What do you want people to take from the movie?” [Laughs] I don’t know!

Glass: Yeah, what is the moral of this story? [laughs]

Stewart: This was always going to be hard to do, and it’s big and expensive and it’s not an easy one to describe. But that’s a testament to Rose and her curiosities, her taste and her commitment. And the fact that [studio] A24 supported it and let her play with some really big guns. I was just like, “Can I come play, too?”

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Glass, left, and Stewart between takes on the set of Love Lies Bleeding.Anna Kooris/The Associated Press

There are big guns here, both metaphorically and literally. It’s a violent film, but with that dark sense of fun. You get your hands quite dirty.

Stewart: There is something unavoidably ejaculation-adjacent to firing a gun off, you know? There’s a lot of pretty obvious, pretty big symbolism in the movie.

Yet the most violent moment is the one that didn’t involve guns at all, but fists, as when a character’s jaw gets creatively rearranged.

Glass: That was done nearly all through digital, though the actor did have to lie down there covered in sticky stuff for a while. But I told the digital effects crew to go nuts, and it developed a life of its own. That’s great fun to have on a film!

Stewart: I didn’t know that he was going to look like that! He was disassembled in a way that shocked me the first time that I watched the finished film. I’m glad I didn’t know while filming, because I would’ve played that moment differently – probably falling to my knees, puking.

Glass: I think your reaction to that is still one of my favourite beats. It makes me laugh so much.

I’ll say the moment got a great reaction from my crowd – and it’s not easy to get critics excited during a morning press screening.

Stewart: Oh god, yes. [laughs]

Rose, when we spoke back for Saint Maud, you had a great line saying, “Do people really want to watch a girl pick a scab on her hand? I guess so.” For this one, did you have to ask yourself if people would want to watch a man get pummelled to the point he loses half his jaw, among other acts?

Glass: This is me doing what I actually think is an incredibly commercial, successful movie! With guns and girls and violence and sex.

Stewart: That’s what the people want, right?

Glass: Then everyone is like, “It’s so weird!” I’m like, what?

Stewart: This is just an American movie!

Glass: It’s like a comic-book for grownups. It has to feel heightened and melodramatic and weird.

An adult comic book penned by David Cronenberg, perhaps.

Glass: Well that’s a huge compliment!

Love Lies Bleeding opens in Canadian theatres March 15.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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