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Review: Bones and All

November 27, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is a love story between Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), two lonely young cannibals who are both on the run from family problems and their own desires, when they meet on a road trip through the Midwest in the 1980s.

After being abandoned by her father (André Holland), Maren hits the road in search of her birth mother, hoping to find answers for her bizarre urges to consume others. She meets fellow drifter Lee along the way, with the two bonding over their shared taste for human flesh.

While Bones and All could be classified as a horror movie due to its subject matter, the film unfolds at somewhat of a slow-burn pace, with Guadagnino focusing more on capturing the vibes and feeling of being on the road for long stretches at a time. Based on a novel by Camille DeAngelis, which has been adapted by screenwriter David Kajganich, the film is at its strongest when it embraces being an offbeat road movie, showing the stretches of wide open spaces and weird outsiders – both kindred spirits and potential victims – that Maren and Lee meet along the way.

We learn that “eaters” have a way of “smelling” each other, which draws a predatory older cannibal named Sully (Mark Rylance) towards Maren. Despite a relatively short amount of screen time, Rylance fully leaves his mark on the film, delivering a genuinely unsettling performance. Michael Stuhlbarg also appears for a chilling scene that serves as a perverted subversion of his monologue from Guadagnino’s previous romance Call My By Your Name (which incidentally also starred Chalamet).

This is obviously a much darker take on a love story than Guadagnino’s Call My By Your Name, but Bones and All does share some of that film’s sensuous style. It’s beautifully photographed by Arseni Khachaturan, who shoots on Kodak film, capturing the expansive fields and Magic Hour skies of the open landscapes that our characters are passing through. It’s accompanied by an excellent musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that provides haunting and emotive accompaniment.

Surprisingly tender at times, but absolutely brutal when it needs to be, Bones and All taps into a very specific feeling of loneliness and searching for a place where you belong. Russell, whose breakout role was in the 2019 movie Waves, carries the film. She compellingly portrays Maren’s torn emotions, including the guilt that she feels over her seemingly insatiable desire for human flesh. Chalamet is similarly understated, portraying a character who has seemingly shut himself off from the emotions around what he needs to do to survive.

It’s a film that, perhaps by design, kept me at somewhat of an emotional distance. While it can be taken at face value, the cannibalism aspect is clearly intended as metaphor for any difference that is shunned by society (perhaps how gay people were treated due to AIDS given the Reagan-era setting, though a drug addiction parallel seems more apt). Still, the fact that they are literally eating people makes it hard to fully connect with the characters. It’s pretty safe to say this is a film that won’t be for everyone, but I admired the effort. The strong performances and haunting atmosphere draw us in, and kept me engaged throughout the carefully paced 130 minute running time.

Bones and All is now playing exclusively in theatres.

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