Film Review: “Bones and All” – “I’ll Eat You Whole, I Love You So”

By Nicole Veneto

With Bones and All, Luca Guadagnino solidifies his place as a filmmaking maverick able to bend genre conventions in ways that express his own painfully beautiful artistic vision.

Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Screening at Coolidge Corner Theatre, AMC Assembly Row, and other cinemas around New England.

Star-crossed cannibal lovers Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) in Bones
and All. Photo: MGM.

It’s not often that I attend an advanced screening of a movie about cannibalism and get to enjoy some barbecue chicken before the show. I’d heard rumors that the sneak peek showing of Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All at Coolidge Corner Theatre was going to be a catered affair. Sure enough, when I stepped into the establishment there was a line of ravenous film critics picking through trays of spare ribs and spicy pulled chicken. Despite the delicious offerings, the barbecue joint that catered Coolidge’s preview event “prefer[ed] not to be named” — just in case the film churned stomachs or offended any delicate sensibilities. (A shame because I really would recommend that spicy pulled chicken.) Or maybe the anonymous restaurant didn’t want a repeat of Suspiria’s CinemaCon presentation, wherein Amazon Studios debuted this scene to a room full of industry people after they’d just eaten lunch.

As far as I’m aware, nobody puked or walked out of Bones and All in disgust or moral indignation. It’s simply too graceful in its approach to one of the great Freudian taboos to cause nauseaIf you’re on a steady diet of sicko movies like I am, chances are you’ve seen far worse than a mulleted Timothée Chalamet turning a trick into date night dinner. Regardless, Guadagnino’s latest offering is a heartbreaking feast for the eyes, a perfectly calculated combination of Suspiria’s refined horror sensibilities and the tear jerking romanticism of Call Me By Your Name. With Bones and All, Guadagnino solidifies his place as a filmmaking maverick able to bend genre conventions in ways that express his own painfully beautiful artistic vision.

Based on the young adult novel by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All is the fleshy bildungsroman of Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell, whose performance earned the coveted Marcello Mastroianni Award at this year’s Venice), a young woman abandoned by her father (the always excellent André Holland, Moonlight) on her eighteenth birthday with only a birth certificate, some crumpled dollar bills, and a cassette tape explaining his decision. For as long as she can remember, Maren and her father have moved from town to town without settling, constantly on the run because of a strange and unusual affliction she’s inherited from her absentee mother (Chloë Sevigny in a small but shocking part). An “eater,” Maren’s developed an insatiable proclivity for consuming human flesh, from mauling her teenage babysitter to death as a toddler to chomping down on a school friend’s finger at a sleepover party. The latter incident serves as the film’s opening scene, marking a jarring shift from indie teen drama to body horror the moment Maren severs the girl’s ring finger from its bloody joint.

With her mother’s name and birthplace in hand, Maren boards a Greyhound from Virginia to track her down in hopes of learning exactly who (or what) she is. Her cross country odyssey through Reagan’s America brings her in contact with two very different eaters offering widely different fates. Maren’s initiation into the community comes courtesy of Sully (an awards-worthy Mark Rylance playing the most Stephen King character Stephen King never wrote), an eccentric older man in a feathered fedora and fisherman’s vest who’s able to sniff her out at a bus stop from half a mile away. Though Sully abides by his own code of survival (“Never eat an eater” being pretty much it), his hunting methods and the rope he’s braided from his victims’ hair disturb Maren into hopping the next bus out of town. And then there’s Lee (Lil Timmy Tim Chalamet reteaming with Guadagnino), a chivalrous young drifter living on the margins while trying to maintain a relationship with his little sister Kayla (We’re All Going to the World’s Fair breakout Anna Cobb) in the aftermath of their alcoholic father’s “disappearance” several years ago.

Recognizing each other’s scents as eaters, Maren and Lee embark on a thousand mile journey together in a stolen pick-up truck through America’s heartland. Their courtship unfolds as a cannibalistic hedgehog’s dilemma — two lonely souls who desperately yearn to be close to other people without harming (or eating) them. While Lee has a couple years experience on Maren, both clearly harbor considerable guilt that their survival depends on a mounting body count. “I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Maren mutters at the start of their road trip, at once a truthful statement and wishful thinking. “Famous last words,” Lee replies, knowing full well that their choices are limited to “eat,” “off yourself,” or “lock yourself up” like a wild animal. The tragedy is that neither human flesh eater is a bad person; David Kajganich’s screenplay wisely posits their cannibalism as an inherited trauma passed on from parent to child, not unlike familial legacies of addiction or mental illness. Given the choice, Maren and Lee would love to live normal, peaceful lives free of the hunger and the ensuing bloodshed. When the opportunity to live like normal people arises though, it’s only a matter of time before the repressed returns to consume them, bones and all.

Those expecting the sort of cacophony of violence Guadagnino elegantly orchestrated throughout Suspiria are in for something much quieter and meditative, even though the subject matter is equally visceral. Like his take on Argento’s giallo classic, Guadagnino contrasts the onscreen brutality with scenes of profound beauty and tenderness. Recalling the breathtaking landscapes of Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Arseni Khachaturan’s (Beginning) cinematography captures amber waves of grain and towering corn fields in a dreamy, sun bleached haze. His camera doesn’t possess the ghostly stillness of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s lens in Suspiria or The Staggering Girl, yet under Guadagnino’s direction, Khachaturan frames Maren and Lee’s doomed romance like a faded Polaroid from yesteryear. Entire scenes play out against an elegiac background: this is the twilight hour of rural America, itself being cannibalized by Reaganomics and deindustrialization. The two lovers stealaway intimate moments in abandoned slaughterhouses and dilapidated homes, a constant reminder of our own society’s capability for cannibalizing its own. Though not nearly as hypnotic as Thom Yorke’s work on Suspiria, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is a significant divergence from their usual work, favoring acoustic guitar strings and atmospheric melodies rather than industrial electronica. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of new wave needle drops to punctuate Maren and Lee’s blossoming love affair along the way.

Perhaps I didn’t leave the theater in a bewitched daze like I did with Suspiria, but by the time the credits rolled my cheeks were soaked with tears. Bones and All’s delectable combination of sweeping romance and nasty body horror left me equal parts heartbroken and hungry for more. You don’t need a stomach of steel to appreciate the dish Guadagnino’s serving here. But those who like their movies on the nastier side will find plenty to squirm over.

Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader. She’s the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or, the Death of Cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Substack.

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