Bones and All is a thrilling genre mash-up, being part-romance and part-road movie. But the engine that drives the movie is cannibalism, making it maybe the most gruesome love story ever told.
Director Luca Guadagnino and actor Timothée Chalamet last collaborated on the beautiful coming-of-age film Call Me By Your Name. Now, some five years later, Bones and All finds them re-teaming for another tale about a teenager taking their first tentative steps into adulthood.
Timothée is now longer that teen however, with Lost in Space star Tyler Russell playing the youngster in question, and Chalamet the (slightly) older mentor/love interest.
While the story could not be more different, being based on a book of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, adapted by David Kajganich, and revolving around people who eat people.
What is Bones and All about?
Russell plays Maren, who gets a cold open that sets the film up as full-on horror. Clearly new to town, Maren is invited to a sleepover, so sneaks out of her bedroom window, and heads to her friend’s.
The girls are quickly talking and laughing, and it looks like Maren might have a moment with the host. But just as they nearly kiss, Maren bites off her finger. Cue pandemonium as Maren races back across town to her Dad, who has clearly seen this happen before.
They pack up in seconds and get out of dodge, setting Maren up as a monster, and Dad her protector. But then he leaves the next night, and so suddenly Maren is alone and forced to fend for herself, while at the same time trying to resist her basest urge.
Her journey begins by bus, where Maren listens to the tape Dad left her; a cunning way to serve exposition, as we hear the horrors of her past. Where you really didn’t want to be Maren’s babysitter. But the ultimate message father sends is that daughter has to figure things out for herself.
While waiting at a bus stop, Maren meets a deeply creepy man called Sully, who refers to himself in the third person, and knows exactly what she is because he can smell it on her. He’s a cannibal himself, the first of several Maren meets along the way, suggesting flesh-eaters can be found around any corner.
The pair dine on an old lady apparently at death’s door, but rather than focussing on the gore, Guadagino shoots the sadness and tragedy of the situation, panning his camera across photos of the woman and her family and friends in younger and happier times.
But something seems off about Sully, so Maren secretly departs, with plans to find her estranged mother for answers, or some kind of clue concerning the nature of her condition.
Timothée Chalamet to the rescue
Then she spies Timothée Chalamet being chivalrous in a supermarket, and so the romance portion of the movie begins. As Lee, he sees a woman being harrassed in ailse four, so escorts the harasser outside. Then eats him because he just happens to be a cannibal too.
Maren smells it on him, and he on her, and so the hungry couple hit the road together, where romance begins to blossom, between the bones and all. But it’s tough existing on the edges of society, watching a world they can’t participate in for fear of what they might do. In that respect, the film is reminiscent of George Romero’s 1977 masterpiece Martin, where the titular vampire suffered in much the same way.
And so the course of cannibal love does not run smooth, as seeing exactly what you are reflected back by your partner raises tough questions about your actions, which prove to be disturbing, and ultimately quite devastating for both parties.
Finding beauty in the bones
Luca Guadagnino’s previous films have captured the beauty of European coasts and countryside – here he’s after the essence of America’s open roads, meaning the film is filled with stunning vistas and sunsets. But it’s also concerned with something more sinister in the country’s small towns, most notably during a colorful night-time carnival that captures the darkness beneath the surface.
Which is one of the film’s main themes. Alongside examining the self-destructive forces that frequently fuel us. With flesh and blood like a drug to our protagonists – something the audience can probably figure out without needing characters – played by Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green – showing up simply to call that out.
It lacks the subtlety that’s found elsewhere in the movie. A bit like Mark Rylance as Sully. Rylance made his mark in Bridge of Spies in understated fashion, earning himself an Academy Award in the process. But since then he’s gone big and broad in the likes of Ready Player One and Don’t Look Up, and here his performance is so large that it threatens to topple the entire movie.
The Verdict – is Bones and All good?
Mercifully, the rest of the ensemble is outstanding. With his red hair, ripped jeans, and rebellious attitude, Chalamet exudes bravery and confidence in his early scenes, but gradually reveals Lee to be much more frightened and insecure. Plus, a scene of him rocking out to KISS is sure to launch a thousand memes.
While Russell is a revelation as Maren, getting the audience on side early in proceedings, and keeping them there in spite of the terrible things she does. The connection that Maren and Lee share makes the horrors of Bones and All somehow palatable, the film finding beauty in the darkness.
Indeed, at one point, a character states that “the world of love wants no monsters in it.” But Luca Guadagino’s stunning film argues the opposite, and convincingly so.
Bones and All screened at Fantastic Fest and hits U.S. screens on November 23.