Bones and All
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell play cannibal lovers road-tripping through America's midwest in this evocative and exquisite film from 'Call Me By Your Name' director Luca Guadagnino.
November 24, 2022
To be a character in a Luca Guadagnino film is to be ravenous. The Italian director does have a self-described Desire trilogy — I Am Love, A Bigger Splash and Call Me By Your Name — on his resume, after all. In those movies and more, he spins sensual stories about hungry hearts, minds and eyes, all while feeding his audience's very same body parts. He tells tales of protagonists bubbling with lust and yearning, craving love and acceptance, and trying to devour this fleeting thing called life while they're living it. Guadagnino hones in on the willingness to surrender to that rumbling and pining, whether pursuing a swooning, sweeping, summery romance in the first feature that put Timothée Chalamet in front of his camera, or losing oneself to twitchy, witchy dance in his Suspiria remake. Never before has he taken having an insatiable appetite to its most literal and unnerving extreme, however, but aching cannibal love story Bones and All is pure Guadagnino.
Peaches filled with longing's sticky remnants are so 2017 for Guadagnino, and for now-Little Women, Don't Look Up and Dune star Chalamet. Biting into voracious romances will never get old, though. Five years after Call Me By Your Name earned them both Oscar nominations — the filmmaker for Best Picture, his lead for Best Actor — they reteam for a movie that traverses the American midwest rather than northern Italy, swaps erotic fruit for human flesh and comes loaded with an eerie undercurrent, but also dwells in similar territory. It's still the 80s, and both hope and melancholy still drift in the air. Taylor Russell (Lost in Space) drives the feature as Maren, an 18-year-old with an urge to snack on people that makes her an unpopular slumber-party guest. When she meets Chalamet's Lee, a fellow 'eater', Bones and All becomes another sublime exploration of love's all-consuming feelings — and every bit as exquisite as Guadagnino and Chalamet's last stunning collaboration.
First seen newly arrived in a small Virginia town, Maren sneaks out to attend that aforementioned sleepover, which there's zero chance her strict single dad (André Holland, Passing) would've allowed her to attend. Following a swift, grisly chomp on a freshly manicured finger, it's clear why, and evident why Maren's exasperated father doesn't want to stay around in the aftermath. He moves her to Maryland first, leaving her with a cassette spouting backstory, including that her bloodthirsty tastes date back to her toddler days, and to munched-on babysitters — plus a birth certificate bearing her mother's (Chloë Sevigny, Russian Doll) name. So springs a road trip to Minnesota, searching for that estranged mum and more answers. Then, travelling through Ohio brings Maren to the creepy yet earnest Sully (a memorable Mark Rylance, The Phantom of the Open), who shares her hankerings and says he could smell her from blocks over. Next, in an Indiana supermarket, she crosses paths with Lee.
Sporting confidence aplenty — "when you weigh 140 pounds wet, you gotta have a big attitude," Lee tells Maren — Chalamet makes an imprint from his first scene. Indeed, that initial moment with Russell leaves an imprint itself, too, resembling Andrea Arnold's American Honey as much of Bones and All does. Inverting the dynamic that worked so well for him in Call Me By Your Name, the internet's boyfriend isn't the thirsty newcomer. Instead, he's the seasoned hand, one half of Bones and All's dreamy but dangerous couple, and always second to Russell's astonishing work as Maren. Both actors turn in subtle, evocative and rousing performances that sting with rawness, naturalism and deeply stomached pain while soothing through their chemistry amid the gristle. As a result, whenever they're together, they're as inviting a treat as the feature serves up. Still, in yet another powerful performance, Russell repeatedly shows why her exceptional breakout turn in Waves wasn't a one-off.
As Guadagnino and his now three-time screenwriter David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash, Suspiria) adapt Camille DeAngelis's award-winning 2015 novel, Russell and Chalamet also navigate a coming-of-age search for belonging — an outsider story with actual teeth, and one that isn't afraid to use them. When Maren first gets chewing, she's making a rare friend, only for her world to dissolve by being herself. After her meat-cute with Lee, then seeing his unapologetic approach needing to eat, she finally starts to feel like she fits in. Yet whether she's facing the reality of killing to feed or getting queasy over a fireside encounter with a perturbing eater (Call Me By Your Name's Michael Stuhlbarg) and someone who has willingly chosen the cannibal life (Halloween Ends director David Gordon Green), she keeps grappling with who she is. Maren yearns to connect — and does with Lee, although unsurprisingly shies away from Sully's too-keen offer of companionship — but also has to learn to deal with her appetite, the stark realities of her situation, and the line between predator and prey, none of which she can ignore.
If 70s classic Badlands met teen vampire tale Let the Right One In while driving across middle America under the magic-hour sky — and with Duran Duran, Joy Division and New Order as a soundtrack — Bones and All would be on that exact road. Visually, it adores the former, as gorgeously and expressively lensed by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan (Beginning). The atmospheric score by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and his film-composing partner Atticus Ross (Academy Award-winners for The Social Network and Soul) has a nervy and layered feel reminiscent of the latter, however. Combining such sumptuous imagery with the affecting score might seem like a stark contrast. Mixing the feature's aesthetics with the narrative's innate horrors, because there's no escaping the gruesome subject matter, blood and all, might appear the same, in fact. But Bones and All's pieces always swirl together in a vivid, affecting, like-you're-there fashion. That's another Guadagnino trademark, as seen most recently in his teens-in-Italy series We Are Who We Are.
Bones and All's precise premise hardly matches anyone's lived experience but, even with the film rippling with a tense and disquieting air that never subsides at its headiest and most lyrical of moments — yes, a movie can be tender, a thriller and queasy at once — its underlying feelings couldn't be more relatable. Guadagnino and his committed cast consistently make their decisions with that in mind, tearing into the universal, unavoidable truth that to be human is to wrestle with primal needs and wants. Raw, Fresh, Yellowjackets and The Neon Demon have all sunk their gnashers into cannibalism on-screen in recent years, and well, but Bones and All proves the kind of picture that truly makes you understand the term haunting. Intense, impassioned, frantic and fragile all at once — because teenage love always is, and life in general — it's a flick so rich, lingering and piercing in its emotions, characters and ideas that it gnaws on you after viewing.
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