Can the Twilight trick be repeated with cannibals? That’s the question asked by Luca Guadagnino’s left-turn rom-chomp Bones and All, a YA adaptation that leans into a grunge aesthetic and the influence of cinema’s Midwest-based, road-tripping bad romances.
The ingredients are certainly all there, as shy Reagan-era teen Maren (Waves breakout Taylor Russell) struggles to make connections at her Virginia school. That’s especially true when a sleepover goes bloodily south and she runs home to her dad (André Holland) covered in gore. His dismay and fast packing denote that Maren’s taste for human flesh is pathological, cyclical; father and daughter soon part ways, leaving Maren attempting to cross the country to find her absent biological mum while running into other ‘eaters’.
Sully (Mark Rylance, doing another silly sing-song voice) wants to teach her the ways of slipping between the shadows; Lee (Timothée Chalamet), meanwhile, is struggling with his moral compass and identity, but offers safe emotional haven and unconditional acceptance.
Operating on the fringes of society, other eaters present threats (Michael Stuhlbarg flipping that gorgeous Dad speech from Call Me By Your Name with grubby glee), brutal self-denial or tourist cannibalism. Can the fragile love and recognition between Maren and Lee sustain them?
Traveling through Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota and under big skies on endless roads, Maren and Lee feed their addiction with violent acts that they attempt to keep ethical on the murder scale. Loners and sexists are fair game; those with families, not. But as low-income people living on the edges, they too are vulnerable…
Guadagnino’s Suspiria-honed love of blood is certainly served here, but so is his interest in Americana (ghost towns, ma and pa fairgrounds, campsites), and American cinema. Nodding to Badlands, Natural Born Killers, My Own Private Idaho, even The Lost Boys, Bones And All is as interested in loneliness, connection, self-identity, and fiscal invisibility as compulsion. Who misses the murdered if they don’t ‘exist’? And what adolescent hasn’t felt the creeping dread that their needs or bodies are out of step with society?
As a Call Me By Your Name reunion (with one obvious omission...), Bones and All takes the sun-dappled beauty of that film and frays it. In Camille DeAngelis’ source novel, Lee is something of a jock, but Chalamet infuses the character with his particular brand of delicacy – all skinny yearning and gender-fluid clothes, his impulse an emotional, spiritual struggle as well as a physical one. He’s more than matched by Russell, whose soft voice and pliant energy belies a strength and determination that can’t be looked away from.
And the eating? It’s heightened and fantastical (could a human really devour a whole body, skeleton included?), bloody, filthy, and messy. The way Maren’s eyes roll orgasmically back in her head before she bites a schoolmate suggests a correlation between sexual awakening and understanding one’s true nature – an aspect that will likely connect with audiences on varying levels.
Beautifully lensed, with music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, it may not be Guadagnino’s best, but it showcases a director with a unique vision who’s willing to get some skin in the game.
Bones and All reaches cinemas on November 23, 2022. For more, check out our guide to the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way soon.