'Bones and All': A Sickening, Yet Sweet Love Story About Cannibals
Of all the tales of star-crossed lovers that have been told over the years, it's fair to say that very few, if any, of them involve cannibalism. And then there is Bones and All. Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, the film blends elements romance, coming of age, and road movies with shades of horror. It's quite the combo, and honestly sounds like it might be a bit too much for some to handle. However, with acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino at the helm and actors Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet as the leads, the film goes down much smoother than expected, and while it may be disturbing, it is also surprisingly sweet.
Set in the 1980s, the film follows Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman who has cannibalistic tendencies. After she is abandoned by her father (André Holland) she sets out to find her estranged mother, and embarks on a road trip across the United States. Along the way she encounters other cannibals, referred to as "eaters", and finds a companion in Lee (Timothée Chalamet). Lee joins her journey, and the two grow closer to each other, and in the process, they end up confronting their pasts and try to figure out their future.
These two seemingly disparate genres, romance and horror, are a tricky fusion, but Luca Guadagnino is highly capable, as he has experience in both genres. In fact, Bones and All almost exists at an intersection of his previous two films Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria. This film reminds me more of the former than the latter, as it is more focused on the relationship between our two leads, but Guadagnino is able to pull off the more horrific elements of the film quite well. He is one of the few filmmakers that can thread the needle that the film is going for, and he manages to do so nicely. It has a more grounded sense of storytelling, which allows some of the wilder elements of the film to stand out. I wouldn't say that he is doing anything that I would consider extraordinary, but Guadagnino strikes a good balance between romance and horror, and delivers something that feels more realistic than I was expecting.
The screenplay is also to thank for the balance that the film strikes, as David Kajganich's script brings together elements of different types of films to make a unique and intriguing story. He combines pieces of love stories, road movies, horror, and coming-of-age films, and makes the film feel rather seamless. Guadagnino's direction is to thank for this, but he is more of the glue, where Kajganich's script give the film a good deal of substance. The dialogue feels rather natural, and the bones (no pun intended) of the characters are quite strong, and gives the actors plenty to build from. I can't speak on how faithful it is to the source material, but it works so much better than I would have guess, largely thanks to Kajganich.
The film features two bright young stars in the lead, with Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell both turning in excellent performances. Considering that Chalamet's breakthrough was in Call Me by Your Name, it's no surprise that Guadagnino gets another great performance from him. Chalamet is an actor that I've always liked, but have never been as hyped up on like some seem to be. However, with this and a couple of his more recent roles, I feel like he's starting to really find his groove. This role allows him to be a bit more dark and edgy, which I was skeptical of going into the film, but pleasantly surprised with how well he pulls it off. At the very least, it is an interesting performance, and shows that there may be more to him as an actor than I give him credit for. Taylor Russell is someone who I have been hoping will have a bigger career, and this has the potential to introduce her to a wider audience. While she is the star of the Escape Room movies, she has wowed me by her work in indie films like 2019's Waves. She has an impressive naturalistic style in that film, which she once again showcases here. As Maren, she is the heart and soul of the film, and she is quite captivating. I sincerely hope that more people take notice of her after seeing this, as she is an amazing talent that deserves the widespread acclaim that some of her contemporaries receive.
The film predominantly features Russell and Chalamet, but they do meet an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Michael Stuhlbarg is especially incredible, making a huge impact despite appearing in only one scene. He is unsettling, creepy, and so dialed into the specifics of the character he is playing, and he gets a great monologue in the process. Also giving a great one-scene performance is Jessica Harper. I don't want to get into the specifics of the role she plays, but she appears in a scene with Taylor Russell, and she is so good in it. And then, there's Mark Rylance. I feel that his performance here is akin to Jared Leto's performance in last year's House of Gucci. By this, I mean that it will divide audiences in terms of whether he is giving a good performance or a bad one. It is the showiest performance of the whole film, but this seems to be by design. His character, Sully, represents the depths and darkness of being an eater, and the mysteriousness of him only adds to how disturbing his presence is. Rylance makes some big choices with the character, but they feel somewhat justified in the context of the film. These are still distracting at certain points, but I think his performance mostly works. Either way, it's a bonkers performance, and one of the more polarizing ones of the year, bar none.
While there are a few editing choices that confused me, the film is quite impressive on a technical level. It's not anything overly elaborate or complex, but it is beautiful and gives the film a nice boost. Arseni Khachaturan's camerawork is especially fantastic, as he uses shadow and light exceptionally well. He also uses close-ups in a fascinating way that feels a bit unconventional, but leaves an impression, regardless. Of course, one of the best aspects of the film is none other than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score. I am a huge fan of Reznor and Ross's other scores, but this one is easily one of my favorites. Utilizing guitar and piano especially, the score has a folkier vibe than their usual stuff, and alternates between being tense and foreboding and being lovely and almost melancholy. On top of this, they composed and performed an original song for the film, which plays over the final scene. The song, (You Made It Feel Like) Home is a heartbreakingly gorgeous composition that allows the film's final moments to hit hard, and is one that I hope gets a Best Original Song nod at this year's Oscars.
Bones and All is a strange blend of differing genres, but it is one that comes together so beautifully. Between Luca Guadagnino's direction and David Kajganich's screenplay, the film is both sweet and disturbing, and handled quite expertly. The core dynamic between Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet's characters gives the film a fair deal of heart, while everything else forms around it to make an unusual, yet intriguing film that might not be everybody's cup of tea, but will absolutely delight those who are drawn in by its fusion of horror and romance. I can't say that it is a masterpiece, but it is quite impressive, and one of the more memorable movies I've seen all year.