Director Luca Guadagnino is working on levels of comfort, or discomfort, most directors take their entire career to find. His last two directorial efforts brought the coming of age, gay love story of Call Me by Your Name (2017) and the feminist horror thriller Suspiria (2018), comes Bones and All, a film that bridges the tenderness of the former with the carnage of the latter to make the boldest film of his career.
We are introduced to Maren (Taylor Russell), a recently turned 18-year-old that is about to finish high school. When she is asked by one of her friends to come to a sleep over, there is excitement and curiosity of wanting to be part of a group of normal kids, being fairly new to the community and an outsider. The problem is, her father (Moonlight’s André Holland) won’t let her out of the house, locking her door at night so she can’t escape. Why is that you ask? Well, it is simple, Maren is a cannibal and has driven the father-daughter duo to run around the country for a sense of normalcy until she eats someone. From this moment on, Bones and All makes it clear that you are in for one of the most unique, macabre, loving experiences at the movies in quite some time.
Her father’s worries come true when Maren sneaks out after curfew to a sleep over, and after having a moment of pure connection, takes a quick pound of flesh of one of the girls. From this moment, Maren and her father are on the move again. But when she wakes up the next day after a long night of travel, her father has left, leaving an envelope of cash and a recorded message on a tape stating that he can’t help her anymore, and she must learn how to control this urge that is bubbling inside of her. With no one else to go to, Maren starts on a cross country journey to reconnect with the mother she and her father exited many years ago, in an effort to understand how she become an “eater.” Within her first stop on the road, she comes across a sketchy fellow by the name of Sully (Oscar winner Mark Rylance), who tries to take Maren under his wing after noticing her scent of an eater miles away. These scenes with Sully not only bring out one of the wildest performances of Rylance’s career, with his over-the-top (yet oddly appropriate) accent and sinister demeanor but allows us to see Russell’s Maren learn that she will need to react and adapt quickly to avoid eaters like him.
As she is gets back on the road, Maren starts to open up like a blossoming flower in the sunlight when she meets Lee (Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet), a slightly older eater who, like her, is on his own, going from one small town to the other, feeding off men who harm or harass those in the community. Lee is a loner. A broken soul whose past traumas have locked him off from the world, so when he decides to help Maren on his quest to see her mother, it is the first time he has connected with someone outside of his younger sister Kayla (Anna Cobb). In going from state to state, they slowly open up to one another, and realize they need each other for more than just eating, but to not be alone anymore. They grow a love for one another off the fact that being an eater is a lonely, painful experience, and at a certain point, there has to be more to it that consuming those people around them.
There are speed bumps along their way, like a run in with a terrify duo by the name of Jake and Brad (unrecognizable turns for Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green and who provide the story behind the film’s title), who explain to them that hunger will consume them both and their past will catch up to them if they don’t embarrass who they are really are. Sully also reappears a couple of times, making the lives and love of Maren and Lee dangerous because of Sully’s obsession with our female protagonist. Ultimately, we find our carnivorous lovers come face to face with their internal demons, testing the limits of how far they can go to push each other way before realizing just how much they need of one another.
The biggest strength of the film rest on the shoulders of its two lead actors, Russell and Chalamet, whose chemistry is raw, sexy, vulnerable, and earnest in such a way that we’ve yet to see from either performer in their young filmographies. Russell, best known for her breakout role in 2019’s Waves, brings Maren full circle, from a naive, scared teen to a confident, passionate woman who realizes that she can’t fix who she is, much to the chagrin of her absentee parents. She embraces that she is an eater who happens to feel the best when she is around Lee, and in this, Russell proves she is a force to be reckon with. As for her counterpart, Chalamet gives his best performance since his last collaboration with Guadagnino and shows his maturity as an actor since their last project. His work as Lee leans into the best qualities of the young actor, as he is safe, inviting, and subtle until his former life’s secrets unravel and he becomes defenseless and opens up.
Credit also goes to Guadagnino and his co-writer David Kajganich for their difficult task of adapting Camille DeAngelis’s novel of the same name, mixing the right amount of emotion and violence. In doing this, they find a tone that blends heart and danger, as well as a sense of wonder as our duo travel around the middle of the US in the 1980s over the course of one summer. Throw in a spellbinding, almost entirely acoustic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and this is horror, romance, travel tragedy leaves you flawlessly with a pit in your stomach and a tear in your eye.
This review is from the 2022 Telluride Film Festival. MGM and United Artists will release Bones and All only in theaters on November 23.