Synopsis – Maren, a young woman, learns how to survive on the margins of society.
My Take – Having seen Cannibal Holocaust (1980), The Green Inferno (2013), and at least six Texas Chain Saw Massacre films, it seemed like I had enough of a fill for cannibal horror to last a lifetime, however, considering filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria remake, Call Me By Your Name) was returning to feature directing after four years, my interest couldn’t be helped but be piqued.
And I was right, somewhat.
Adapted from Camille DeAngelis‘s YA bestseller of the same name, here, director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich offer a new intoxicating tale of love and self-discovery in the form of a digestible, prestige-glossy art-house picture, but only this time it is dripping with blood. Structured as a lush, richly conceived cannibal road-trip romance, the film lives in the intimate space between love and self-hatred, with characters who connect over their shared hunger for human flesh.
While it is imperfect in many ways, the film is extremely unique in the way it switches from beautiful romance to brutal violence throughout the course of its story, and thankfully manages to combine these contrasting elements really well for the most part in the form of an intriguing drama whose horror truly disturbs and romance breaks heart.
Sure, the film grows tedious after a bit before picking back up again, but as it unfolds its layers, I found the film largely absorbing due to its pitch-perfect atmosphere and smart performances.
Yes, without a doubt, the film won’t work for everyone, but some will probably be very moved by it. Despite my mixed feelings at the end, I do see the film having a future in the years to come as a pulpy midnight feature, appreciated for its haunting depiction of youth drifting along the fringe of society.
Set in the 1980s, the story follows Maren (Taylor Russell), a shy teenager who has just started at a new school, living on the edge of poverty with her single dad Frank (André Holland). However, when one of her new friends invites her to a sleepover, the mood of humid, girlish intimacy excites Maren in ways her new friends could not have anticipated: she bites someone’s finger off and eats it. Maren is in fact a cannibal, and her terrible addictive compulsion has kept her and her dad on the run for years.
And when her dad abandons her on her 18th birthday, Maren heads off on a mission to find her mom, to find out who she is and why she does this. Along the way, she finds other secret cannibals. One being Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a young man with whom she spurs a romance over a weeks-long period of drifting through the Midwest, and the other being, Sully (Mark Rylance), a creepy old eater who inducts Maren into the ways of the cannibal and has further gourmand designs. Naturally, they leave a trail of blood behind them.
Despite Maren’s desire to find her mother, the film moves at a leisurely pace that makes its connection and debt to the great American road films of the past undeniably clear, reminiscent of director Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987). Without a doubt, the film is not shy about its premise. So when the first act of cannibalism arrives in the opening few minutes, with a finger suddenly bitten clean off, it hits like a hammer: this is not just another bite of the peach.
Genuinely frightening in stretches and with the creep-o-meter jacked up to 1,000 all the way through, the film is somehow more and less than a simple horror flick. As the film doesn’t hold back in its use of gore, much like in director Guadagnino‘s gruesome remake of Suspiria (2018).
Here, director Guadagnino doesn’t shy away from the visceral shock of their unspeakable impulses, as both Maren and Lee spend much of the time smeared in the congealing blood of their victims. And as the two roam this country’s back roads, they struggle to contain their nature. This leads them to dark tests in cornfields and remote campgrounds where they encounter the types of eaters they might become.
The act of feeding is itself shown as feral, animal like and shameful. The flesh-eating compulsion portrayed here is very different from the cannibalism of mainstream flicks, which is shown usually as more cynical and worldly. Nor is it simply a YA metaphor for rebellion and marginalization and dissenting identity politics. Instead it is a contained character study about the most human of passions and desires, wrapped up in inhuman tastes. The ruthlessness of survival and the secret shame of that special sort of hunger that stays with you even when you do survive.
However, despite all its technically impressive parts, there’s something missing here, a film that feels surprisingly tame given the contents of its story. Mainly as some of the film’s happenings don’t feel earned, one late turn in particular, while shockingly visceral, works to make its silent, lingering horrors a bit too overt. Yet, there are rarely moments when the film doesn’t feel engrossing. A major thanks to its performances.
Taylor Russell gives a terrific performance as the lead, who is marred by internal conflict and questions about who and why she is. Timothée Chalamet plays counterpoint as a troubled but likable youth who brings instant energy and charisma to Lee and together they have a really palpable chemistry. Mark Rylance only has a few scenes in total but definitely doesn’t feel underutilized thanks to a role that plays completely against type in a ridiculously unsettling performance that’s kindness only adds to how uncomfortable he is anytime he’s present.
Michael Stuhlbarg, meanwhile, nearly steals the entire film in a scene that gives him the chance to show up wearing nothing but denim overalls and deliver a monologue about the pleasures of devouring another human being while lit by the haunting amber light of a nearby bonfire. In smaller roles, André Holland, Jessica Harper, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green and Francesa Scorsese are effective. On the whole, ‘Bones and All’ is a heartfelt yet nasty romantic horror flick that offers plenty of memorable moments.
Directed – Luca Guadagnino
Rated – R
Run Time – 131 minutes