Released a few days before Thanksgiving, “Bones and All” brings a whole new meaning to the word “feast.” As many prepare for the taste of turkey, those who watch Luca Guadagnino’s highly anticipated work will either become accustomed to witnessing human consumption, or end up losing their appetite altogether.
Squelches of blood, crackling bites into flesh and the stretchiness of peeled skin are all ways Guadagnino’s filmmaking generates visceral reactions from viewers. He toys with the audience, forcing it to go back and forth between the distaste they feel for the film’s cannibalistic protagonists, and the sympathy they get from seeing these characters struggle with their unnatural tendencies.
Eighteen-year-old Maren (Taylor Russell) seems normal for the most part, living in rural Virginia during the 1980s with the goal of making more friends at her high school. That plan ultimately backfires when she bites off a girl’s finger at a sleepover.
But unlike what her behavior suggests, Maren is far from a monster. She has no intentions of harming anyone — despite the strong urge to satisfy her palate — and is left to figure out how to shape her life around her identity as an eater (Oddly enough, the film makes a point not to use the term “cannibal”). Her eventual encounter with Lee (Timothée Chalamet) almost seems predestined, as she remains desperate for guidance.
Personality-wise, Lee exudes himself as altruistic and outgoing. He yells at men harassing mothers in convenience stores, teaches his little sister how to drive, sings and dances to “Lick It Up” by KISS — the only caveat is that he happens to eat people.
In “Bones and All,” cannibalism is not so much portrayed as an insatiable hunger, as it is an unwanted affliction. Maren inherits hers from her mother, and Lee gets his from his father. Evidently, having an eater for a parent doesn’t make for a happy home life.
Substitute what you want for cannibalism: drug addiction, abuse, the stigmatized notions around LGBTQIA+ people. When generational trauma ensues and family ties are broken because of it, you’re compelled to find love in other places.
The metaphor is a bold yet suitable choice. Ironically, Maren and Lee’s shared craving for human flesh brings about a stronger craving for human connection, and their romance has a nuanced tone of gentleness that Russell and Chalamet deliver poignantly. A lack of sex scenes is compensated by scenes of the two talking and confiding in one another. Their conversations are soft moments, backed by a recurring acoustic instrumental by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (a composing duo most notable for their work on David Fincher’s “The Social Network”).
Russell and Chalamet are not the only ones who emit talent on screen. Mark Rylance’s performance as Sully throws away any remnants of his character in “Dunkirk,” instilling a deep-seated discomfort for viewers as they navigate the middle-aged eater’s suspicious intentions — and watch him show off his rope of braided hair from his victims.
Michael Stuhlbarg also joins Chalamet under Guadagnino’s list of frequent collaborators. The father-son bond they share in “Call Me By Your Name” (2017) is overshadowed by their cannibal-to-cannibal interaction in “Bones and All,” now the second film adaptation directed by Guadagnino that they’ve been in together (the story is based on the same-titled novel by Camille DeAngelis).
Even with the film’s macabre quality, its pleasing frames go against any expectation of ugliness. A still that shows the moving silhouettes of windy trees on Maren’s blue-lit house, an upward angle of a shirtless Lee covered in dried blood and a wide shot of the two sitting on the green hills of Nebraska are just a few reasons why Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography is nothing short of beautiful.
Performances, direction and visuals are what this film excels at. But it’s especially good at proving how a combination of genres, when done properly, can lead to the most alluring product.
“Bones and All” is the epitome of a flavor experiment gone right. It double-dips into the romance and horror categories without favoring one over the other, and instead, produces a balanced story packed with gruesome gore that complements intimate affection. Deliciously gross is a fitting description.
While most will underestimate how easy it is to connect with the film’s protagonists, Maren and Lee represent those of us who have a hunger for closeness and the challenges in satisfying a desire to be understood. Yes, “Bones and All” is about cannibals — which calls for violence and the occasional jump scare — but above all else, its sentimentality will eat away at your heartstrings (and maybe a bit more).