Bones and All
Bones and All is a road trip/romantic drama about two very damaged young people who find a reason to keep going in each other. It just so happens that they are both cannibals. Luca Guadagnino, one of the most interesting directors working today (Call Me by Your Name, Suspiria) does an excellent job of balancing the barren beauty of the landscape they drive through and the pure feelings they develop for one another with the blood, violence and hopelessness that is their existence. It is fascinating because it is reminiscent of other movies (Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and Badlands both came to mind a lot), yet the hook really does make a difference. At its core, this is two kids struggling to move past their individual traumas. The twist is that said trauma forces them to be monsters in order to survive.
What is most surprising about Bones and All (125 minutes, without the end credits) is that Guadagnino does not judge his characters, though he also doesn’t shy away from showing the gory consequences of their compulsion. This is an intimate character study that is sad, dark, lovely and thoughtful. It is approximately 35% love story, 40% coming-of-age story, 25% horror. That blend ends up working quite well.
Maren is a quiet, smart, shy 18-year-old cannibal in 1988. Her father has tried everything he can to keep her safe, and keep her from eating, but after she is unable to control her urges once again, he finally gives up, abandoning her. Having never met anyone else like herself, she uses some hints regarding the mother she has never known to track her down in Minnesota and get answers. Along the way, she meets another cannibal (or “eater” in the movie’s parlance) named Lee and they find comfort in companionship.
Guadagnino directs this like a romance where the couple sometimes eats people. While it is tempting to call it “art house horror,” the violence isn’t there for the sake of thrills, scares or excitement. It is about desperation, hunger and suffering for the sins of the parents. Cannibalism as metaphor for childhood trauma and hereditary issues could have come off as heavy-handed. It doesn’t because Guadagnino makes it feel integral to the story he is telling. The screenplay (by his regular collaborator David Kajganich, based on the 2015 Young Adult novel by Camille DeAngelis) is sensitive to emotion, convincingly following Maren’s journey of self-discovery without a lot of blunt dialogue.
Maren is played by Taylor Russell as someone ashamed of who she is. Alone for the first time in her entire life, she discovers she knows nothing about herself. Russell plays her as a child suddenly realizing she is already an adult. There is a kindness to her, mixed with a healthy distrust of others, that seems like it should contradict the awful things she does. It fits with the great tonal control that Bones and All has that Maren always seems consistent.
The same is true of Lee, played as a young man who has had to be older than his years for far too long in another good performance from Timothée Chalamet. He is very skilled at showcasing vulnerability and Lee is certainly more emotionally open than Maren is. Despite a tough front, he wears his heart on his sleeve, making for a perfect match with his more closed-off partner. They are two broken pieces forming an awkward whole.
The performances are strong (that includes the dependably brilliant Mark Rylance, who almost steals the movie as an eccentric eater who shows Maren the ropes), the writing is an effective mix of the grotesque and the heartfelt and the direction ties metaphor, horror and coming-of-age romance together in an impressive way. There is definitely a sense, as it unfolds, that versions of this story have been told before. However, the earnestness with which Luca Guadagnino relates his take on it, in all its ugly, touching, glory, makes Bones and All an engaging, strange combination of the familiar and the new.
4 out of 5
Taylor Russell as Maren
Timothée Chalamet as Lee
Mark Rylance as Sully
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Screenplay by David Kajganich