After watching Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All,” you may reevaluate your stance on Thanksgiving leftovers. Suddenly a few more days of turkey doesn’t sound that bad, even if it’s past the throw-out date. Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell play star-crossed lovers brought together by an appetite for destruction and human flesh. 80s rural America provides the setting as the young couple searches for a sense of belonging while attempting to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. On the surface it resembles a horror version of “Badlands” but deep down this is a love story filled with hope, dreams, and plenty of blood, and gore.
The film begins with “Let the Right One In” vibes as we meet Maren (Taylor Russell), a teenager living with her father Frank (André Holland) who has been fulfilling his parental duties by putting food on the table. In this case, it’s a little more complicated as Maren is an “eater” who craves human flesh, a trait she inherited from her mother Janelle (Chloë Sevigny) who is not in the picture.
The nomadic father and daughter move from one town to another, using aliases, since Maren was a child. At night Frank locks her in a room to avoid any late-night cravings but she’s a sly teenager who knows how to escape for a quick bite. That’s exactly what happens when Maren is invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Sexual tension fills the air as the girls flirt and paint each other’s nails, but the foreplay begins to tantalize Maren’s tastebuds and with the poise of an apex predator, she takes a quick bite of a finger stripping it down to the bone.
The incident causes Frank to uproot his daughter once again, fleeing Virginia for Maryland. Eventually, the situation becomes too exhausting for the old man, so he abandons Maren on her 18th birthday, leaving behind some cash, her birth certificate, and a cassette tape with a recording he made filled with memories of her childhood. As she rides the bus listening to the recording on a Walkman (another sign we’re in the 80s), her father describes the time she ate Penny the babysitter at age 3, “Her face was chewed up bad but the worst of it was her neck” he proceeds, “She must have been holding you when you started in on her.”
Written by David Kajganich, a Guadagnino regular who penned “A Bigger Splash” and “Suspiria”, and based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, the story takes us across the Midwest encountering eccentric characters along the way including Sully, a seasoned eater played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance who gives us the creepiest baddie since Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth. The actor’s signature demure personality is used to full effect as he refers to himself in the third person while throwing out lines that include “I smelled you” and “Sully found her that way” describing an elderly lady dying in her home that he and Maren proceed to eat.
Sully, of course, is bat-shiz-crazy as Maren begins to realize when he whips out a treasure trove of his victims’ hair, braided together to form a long rope. He says it’s to remember each one but unlike Maren, who feels guilty after giving in her to her insatiable hunger, Sully’s lack of remorse, predatory behavior, controlling personality, and need for trophies, are traits that fall in line with that of a surplus killer.
The heart of “Bones” is exposed once Timothee Chalamet enters the picture as Lee, a drifter, and eater who encounters Maren in a small Ohio grocery store. The two “smell” each other, a common trait among eaters, and decide to travel together in a stolen truck as the film’s focus shifts to the love story angle.
Chalamet (who starred in Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name”) and Russell (who delivered a breakout performance in 2019’s “Waves”) have undeniable chemistry, making it easy to distract the viewer from all the violence. They fall in love, visit Lee’s family, and search for Maren’s mother (a haunting cameo by an unrecognizable Chloë Sevigny) while attempting a normal life by suppressing their cannibalistic urges. Watch for a cameo by wonderful Jessica Harper as Maren’s grandmother.
“Bones and All” gets its title from the term penned by a character in the film named Jake played by Michael Stuhlbarg (who appeared as Chalamet’s loving father in “Call Me by Your Name”). He’s a free-spirited seasoned eater, who uses the term to describe consuming an entire human, which is a rite of passage among eaters. Director David Gordon Green plays Jake’s sidekick Brad, a poser who consumes human flesh, which is more repulsive because he does it for fun.
The cinematography by DP Arseni Khachaturan beautifully captures the rural Midwest, my favorite shots are the outdoor ones, especially the twilight scenes. Shot on 35mm, which seems to be the 28-year-old’s calling card, the film looks like a drama piece shot in the 80s.
Like the cinematography, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross shies away from horror tropes, instead acoustic guitar and orchestral pieces are featured throughout. There are a few dark numbers to accompany the horror onscreen, but when you hear the piano-driven “(You Made It Feel Like) Home” featuring Reznor’s soft vocals followed by his wife singer-songwriter Mariqueen Maandig Reznor’s angelic chorus, the beautiful ballad reminds us that Guadagnino’s film is just as much, if not more of a love story than “Call Me by Your Name.” It also makes me wish for a How to Destroy Angels reunion.
The 80s setting is reinforced by an eclectic soundtrack that features Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning,” Kiss’s “Lick It Up,” and Duran Duran’s “Say a Prayer,” plus Mozart, New Order, and a-ha.
The film’s graphic scenes and cannibalistic theme may be too much for some moviegoers but above everything else, this is a love story heightened by Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell’s moving performances. You can add “Bones and All” to my list of “The Best Films of 2022.”
Now showing in theatres