Film Review – Bones and All
Bones and All
Mixing elements of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973), to even Twilight (2008) and Raw (2016), Bones and All (2022) is simultaneously a sweet romance and a bloody horror story. Director Luca Guadagnino covers areas he visited in Call Me by Your Name (2017) and Suspiria (2018). In both, he examined how young people learn to embrace themselves in ways they haven’t done before. This time, he takes things to a different level. He balances intimate moments between lovers and the path of carnage they leave behind. This is a “Lovers On the Run” tale that is quite garish – it will test both a viewer’s patience and their stomach. And yet, it is beautifully crafted. I’m not so sure the whole piece works cohesively, but I remained interested in where it was going.
Working with screenwriter David Kajganich (adapting Camille DeAngelis’ novel), Guadagnino structures his narrative as a series of episodes centering around a young woman named Maren (Taylor Russell). Maren lives in a trailer home with her father (André Holland), goes to school, has friends, etc. Outside of her family’s financial hardships, Maren is like any other kid. That is, until she spends a late night with a classmate, calmly takes their finger into her mouth, and bites it off. We learn that Maren has a taste for eating human flesh, a secret her father has kept hidden for years. Unable to protect her any longer, Maren’s father abandons her, leaving only a tape-recording detailing everything he knows about her “condition.” With little options, Maren decides to hit the road.
The writing and direction leave the details of Maren’s cannibalistic nature vague. Is she a vampire? A living zombie? We get bits and pieces that fill out this trait, but a full-blown explanation is held back. Maren – and others like her – can “smell” each other from a distance. That is how Maren discovers people with similar appetites, living on the fringes of society. She runs across a man named Sully (Mark Rylance), who explains the changes her body is going through. Rylance plays Sully as a creepy loner, whose demeanor can appear friendly and dangerous at the same time. A bigger development happens when Maren meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a drifter who helps Maren survive and feed. The crux of the narrative involves the budding romance between Maren and Lee as they travel through the American Midwest.
This dynamic, in which two young people fall in love and eat other humans, will undoubtably call to mind the perils of substance abuse. Replace cannibalism with drug addiction and we can sense the dark path Maren and Lee are on. She questions and hesitates at the idea of having to eat others but can’t deny the hunger inside of her. For Lee, he is the enabler, fully embracing this lifestyle and guiding Maren along the way. Watching their story reminded me of Sid and Nancy (1986), which was also about a romance destined for tragedy. Russell and Chalamet have great on-screen chemistry. Their affair is inhabited with tenderness and believability. They find a common soul in each other, which allows them to do just about anything to keep going. Their relationship is funny and sweet, albeit disturbing.
When it comes to the violence and gore, the production does not skip any corners. This is one of the bloodiest movies of the year. We have plenty of scenes featuring Maren, Lee, and others ripping at skin with their teeth, with blood splattering on the walls and on their clothes. On more than one occasion, characters will go about their day with dried blood on their face and chest. Once Maren is on her own, an entire new world opens – one of possibility but also of gruesome brutality. An unnerving sequence involves a late-night encounter Maren and Lee have with two strangers (Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green). The interaction between the four shows how quickly people of their kind can fall into depravity.
Despite how unsettling much of the material is, the narrative never descends to being unwatchable. Guadagnino contrasts the violence with scenes of sincere beauty. Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography captures the wide-open plains and small-town communities under a golden hour sun. Scenes are set outdoors, helping to amplify the aimless nature of Maren and Lee’s adventure. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again deliver an exceptional score, creating a folktale like atmosphere. And while the visuals and music create a solemn, gothic vibe, Marco Costa’s editing works in the opposite direction. He often injects hard cuts and abrupt flashbacks that keep us constantly on our toes. All these pieces exist in contrast to one another, yet when put together work in a weird, abstract way.
There is much to admire about what Guadagnino and his team are doing here, but that is the extent of it. This is the kind of movie that can be appreciated for its technical prowess and strong performances but leaves us feeling unaffected. Once we get passed the shock of its premise, the narrative ambles its way to an awkward ending. This is best represented by Sully. Sully’s first arrival is one of the strongest moments – it sets the tone for everything that comes afterward. But with every subsequent appearance, his impact wears out. By the time we reach the climax, where the connection between Sully, Maren, and Lee is revealed, the result feels staged and clumsy. The entire film operates much in the same fashion.
Bones and All is a coming-of-age romance that has a resolution but doesn’t feel complete. Maybe that’s what being young and in love is all about – having intense emotions for another person but unsure of what that means. The fact that this also includes graphic murder only complicate matters. I liked a lot of what a saw, but I was too often reminded of other iterations of this story – some of which were listed in the first paragraph. This a movie whose biggest strength is reminding people of other movies.