Bones and All, 2022.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, Chloë Sevigny, André Holland, Francesca Scorsese, Jessica Harper, David Gordon Green, Jake Horowitz, Anna Cobb, and Kendle Coffey.
Abandoned by her father, a young woman named Maren embarks on a thousand-mile odyssey through the backroads of America, where she meets Lee, a disenfranchised drifter. But despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and to a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their otherness.
Not even 10 minutes into Bones and All, the introverted 18-year-old Maren (an outstanding Taylor Russell) sneaks off to a slumber party where she fails to resist the temptation of the flesh, biting off a classmate’s finger. She’s also the protagonist of this story, centered on self-discovery, self-loathing, twisted self-acceptance, and grossly endearing romance.
Her father, Frank (André Holland), is aware of his daughter’s cannibalistic tendencies, locking her in the bedroom after school and dinner (regular food). Whenever Maren slips up and bites into a human being, their lives are upended, going on the run before settling down somewhere else in the rural Midwest circa Ronald Reagan’s presidency, with fake names. But this time, Frank does not stay. Instead, he leaves behind some cash and a tape contending a recording of his honest thoughts about his daughter, deeply personal feelings acknowledging her highly illegal behavior, with instructions to burn after listening.
Throughout Bones and All, Maren periodically listens to snippets of this tape, which turns out to be a moving narrative device that further humanizes the girl through the lens of her father, wrecked with moral uncertainty and guilt, who loves his daughter but can’t stand by her anymore. He hopes she can overcome this disease and live a normal life with normal problems. Our heart breaks for both of them.
It would have been so easy for director Luca Guadagnino (whose last film was a pleasantly disturbing remake of Suspiria) to lean into the vicious gore and genre fun, but in adapting Camille DeAngelis’s novel (from a script by David Kajganich), the filmmaker shows restraint opting for a moody, lyrically moving (accentuated by a beautifully gentle but unnerving score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) study of these characters and how they perceive themselves.
There’s no question that Maren knows what she is doing is wrong on every level, but even with limited access to public spaces, her hunger has hurt people and ruined lives. As such, she decides to seek answers from her mom, only in possession of a name and state. Part of that search involves self-exploration into whether a human can still have redeeming qualities and deserve love despite abhorrent behavior.
On this cross-country road trip, Maren first encounters squeaky-voiced creep Sully (Mark Rylance, playing the part too eccentrically and out of place with the rest of the film’s tone, but not without finding depth to this pathetic lunatic), who uses smell to deduce that she is also a cannibal. A brief section ensues where Sully gives a rundown on using these abilities to one’s advantage and murder advice, revealing himself to be somewhat of a remorseless psychopathic serial killer (complete with his twisted way of keeping track of his kills). It is evident that Sully has completely given himself over to this condition and is one of many future possibilities of who Marin could become.
Far more attractive but no less troubled and weird is Timothée Chalamet’s Lee, a cannibal drifter that has a meet-cute with Maren in a convenience store. He notices her defending a fellow patron from nasty remarks and then almost instantaneously makes the decision to follow that man outside and kill/feast on the body. Naturally, Maren isn’t too shocked or concerned; if anything, there’s a sense of warped relief finding someone close in age with a stronger understanding of her current moral crisis. Unsurprisingly, these two are drawn toward each other, but for different reasons; Maren wants to be around someone that relates and someone to confide in, whereas Lee gives the impression that love might offer a release from his inner pain.
For as much as Bones and All is about Maren tracking down her mother, there’s also a rewardingly pained exploration of an abusive past that only made Lee’s circumstances more tricky to navigate. Like Maren, he is also stuck in a deep wall of shame, although externally puts out the vibe that he is comfortable with who he is, seemingly only killing and cannibalizing awful people that deserve it (which is, let’s face it, no one). Everyone’s baggage is delicately handled, aided by soft and evocative cinematography from Arseni Khachaturan, boasting undeniable grace even during the film’s bloodiest moments.
As they encounter various characters in and outside the cannibalism sphere, there’s a push and pull with Maren’s perspective; in some respects, it’s clear to her that this is who she is, but then there are others that indulge in this sickening behavior far too unsettlingly proud of what they are, causing her to question her actions. Meanwhile, Lee has trouble sticking around his family despite having a loving bond with his younger sister, Kayla (Anna Cobb, the breakout star of the excellently uncomfortable creepy pasta thriller We’re All Going to the World’s Fair), fearing that he is a bad person. Maybe they are.
Mileage will vary in empathy here, but the freaks out there that get on the wavelength of Bones and All will relish in its emotional complexity. Even when it feels like it’s going on for one seem too long, the ending pierces your heart arriving at the logical conclusion. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet have endless chemistry to burn, ensuring that we empathize with them throughout every step of their individual journeys. For Luca Guadagnino to accomplish that in a bizarrely beautiful love story about cannibals is nothing short of exceptional.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com