Bones and All is a movie that defies easy categorization. It’s the latest film from Luca Guadagnino, the director of Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria, who to date has quite the pristine reputation. It stars Timothée Chalamet, one of the biggest young stars on the planet. By those measures, you might think it’s an awards drama. It’s also a road-trip romance set in the 1980s which sounds like the description of a comedy or fantasy. Then, in addition, it’s about two cannibals filled with all the stomach-churning violence and gore to go with it. So, yes, it’s also a horror movie.
The combination of all of that probably shouldn’t work, but through Guadagnino’s lens, it truly does. Bones and All is a dense, satisfying film that not only taps into multiple emotions, it’s got that genre appeal that sets it apart from so many other films it sort of sounds like. The film keeps you fully engaged by building a fascinating, tantalizing world in which two lonely souls try to fall in love, while also eating people.
Though Chalamet is the big name here, the actual star of the movie is Escape Room’s Taylor Russell, who plays Maren. Maren is a young woman living in poverty because she and her father continually have to move. And they move because Maren will, on occasion, bite someone’s finger off. Right up front Guadagnino, adapting a screenplay by David Kajganich based on a novel by Camille DeAngelis, is clear about this. Maren craves human flesh and it has basically destroyed everyone and everything around her.
Eventually she meets Lee (Chalamet) who, we learn, is also a cannibal. The two meet because another crucial character named Sully (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) explains to Maren that “eaters,” as they like to be called, can smell each other. There are more of them out there than she expects, he explains. And once this new world of eaters is established, Lee and Maren set off on a search to find Maren’s mother. Along the way they get close and try to stick to a set of rules that frees them of the guilt that comes from their shared desire for death.
Throughout, the story goes in some very surprising directions and keeps the horror at bay for maximum effectiveness (and when there is horror, it is not for the faint of heart). There’s so much more going on though. You also find yourself yearning to learn more about the world of eaters, while also rooting for Lee and Maren to succeed, while also just feeling generally tense about any eventual consequences for the mayhem they produce on their journey. And that journey gets even better thanks to rich, supporting roles by Chloe Sevigny, Michael Stuhlbarg, Andre Holland, and David Gordon Green.
Chalamet has reached a point, even early in his career, where you can expect excellence from him and he delivers on that and more. Lee at first seems like a troublemaker but as the film progresses and he peel backs the layers of the character, Lee becomes vulnerable and loving, but also loyal and strong. Russell more than matches Chalamet’s presence with a career-making performance that’s scared and innocent to start, but blossoms throughout into a confident, lovable person. The two characters almost start at polar opposite ends of the spectrum and spend the whole movie working their way towards the middle, and each other.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rylance. Here are six words people will be saying from now until forever: “Mark Rylance in Bones and All.” He’s another actor we’ve come to expect excellence from, but his creepy, weird, but also sweet cannibal Sully is one for the ages. He’s not on screen that much but when he is, an already great film somehow gets exponentially better, because he brings such an uncomfortable but crucial energy.
Bones and All will not be for everyone. For some, it might too gory. For others, maybe a bit too slow. But it really threads the needle in making something that’s a strange alchemy, but with a result that’s unique and wonderful. It’s a period piece coming of age horror romance road movie that you should 100% seek out.
Bones and All had its U.S. premiere this week at Fantastic Fest 2022. It opens in theaters November 23.
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