Like a box of chocolate, you never know what to expect from director Luca Guadagnino. I haven’t seen everything from the acclaimed Italian filmmaker, but I’ve seen both Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria out of his feature films. Call Me By Your Name was one of my favorite films that year that instantly made me a fan of Timothée Chalamet (who should’ve won Best Actor), and his 2018 remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria was something alright. That was one of those films that was hard to admire when I kept looking away. With his latest Bones and All, take some aspects from both of his last two and throw them into a road trip drama worth expecting. It was another film where I only had to watch the short teaser and ignore everything else in the promotions. He delivers your unconventional coming-of-age film when it features two fine young cannibals (no songs from them, by the way).
Based on Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 novel of the same name, Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) is your typical shy girl in the 1980s trying to make friends. But, after being invited to a sleepover, she made the mistake of biting a girl’s finger off. Her secret: She’s a cannibal with an unnatural hunger for flesh. This causes her and her father (André Holland) to flee town and start all over. Shortly after her 18th birthday, he doesn’t feel he’s good enough to protect her, abandoning her to live on her own. With no one left, Maren decides to go on a cross-country road trip across America to find the long-lost mother she never knew about and get the answers to why she is this person. Along the way, she meets a drifter named Lee (Chalamet) in a grocery store in Indiana, who also happens to be an “eater” as well. Soon both of them team up to navigate what they’re meant to do when living in a world with them eating people.
Even when it’s based on a book, the premise surrounding this love story can sound pretty ridiculous to take seriously with a moral dilemma. But in the hands of someone like Guadagnino, who wouldn’t dare to romanticize the idea of cannibalism, it wasn’t the least bit shocking to see him take Bones and All and make it as grounded as possible when making the tonal balance of horror and coming-of-age romance. We don’t see any of those often, even when it’s easy to see them as sort of vampires.
While on this odyssey through the back roads of America, they must understand the world Maren and Lee live in and the human connection to be embraced by what they do and learn they’re more like them, which is essentially a strange urge with young love. These are just two souls looking for understandable reasons to be loved by those who won’t afraid of who they are. They need each other to make it through. And I’m usually the type of person who considers themselves squeamish when it involves people eating flesh like it’s a piece of chicken within this world Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich allow to step into. However, this didn’t go fully graphic like it was in Suspiria. But there were a few times when I had to look away, which could lead to people walking out. For your typical cannibal love story, they made it possible to be moved by these characters under the circumstances, leading to a combination of Twilight (if good) and an independent road trip film like My Own Private Idaho.
Both Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet turn in outstanding outcast performances that leave you attached to the film till the end. Russell, in particular, shines the most in what I’ll consider being the lead. Everybody started paying attention to her after her performance in Waves (a drama I don’t necessarily understand the hype over), and this has got to be her best performance to date. She’s someone so insecure and still discovering who she really is with the cannibal side of herself. And while the marketing may have made him the focus, Chalamet keeps bringing that winning charisma with his performance as Lee, calmer and more collected with his personality, keeping secrets from his past. Once again, pulling out another career-defining performance from the actor where the chemistry he shares with Russell shines even in quieter moments of comfort. What I will remember as the weirdest performance this year comes from Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, who plays Sully, this creepy man who’s also an eater and has this odd fixation on Maren after smelling her a block away. After I finished and was thinking about him, I assure his performance will split people into both sides. So for me, it’s take it or leave it. This also has a few other surprise supporting performances from Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green, and a brief appearance by Chloe Sevigny as Maren’s mother.
Between the tender relationship blooming and the gore comes Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography is gorgeous in capturing the American heartland as a distraction from the disturbing imagery. And having composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross chosen to provide the score was a perfect choice. A different sound that didn’t rely on their usual electronic techniques; the change of pace for them using acoustic guitars was more relaxed while taking in the visual atmosphere outside.
Some elements of the story could’ve been more developed to gain more attention in the emotional department. But Bones and All is now included on the list of films that, in your opinion, should have concluded at an ideal moment. Instead, it went on for an additional 15 minutes that involved a different character. While it kept me engaged, it made the 131-minute runtime longer. Because of its slow-paced nature, not everyone will gravitate positively toward the film, especially those who were expecting this to be full-on horror. Since they sent me a screener, I might see myself rewatching this hoping to get to the love-it level.
Bones and All’s tale of young cannibals is bloody and romantic, making for a compelling effort from director Luca Guadagnino. Not everything connected with me to call it one of the best I’ve seen this year, but it’s a must-watch for Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet’s phenomenal chemistry alone.
Bones and All is now playing in theaters nationwide| Runtime: 131 Minutes| Rated R for strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity| Studio: MGM.