‘Bones and All’ Review: Teenage Love at First Bite
By Daniel Rester
Ah, to be young and in love. First kisses. First road trips. First humans shared for dinner.
Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, based on the 2015 book by Camille DeAngelis and adapted by David Kajganich, is a love story about two cannibals. The director reunites with his Call Me by Your Name (2017) star, Timothée Chalamet, who plays a loner named Lee. He travels the USA by road with fellow “eater” Maren (Taylor Russell) as she searches for her mother. They also try to avoid a mysterious older cannibal named Sully (Mark Rylance), who is obsessed with Maren ever since meeting her one night.
Bones and All is an unusual but poignant horror romance. It brings to mind road trip pictures like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973), and American Honey (2016), but with a darker and bloodier angle along the lines of Near Dark (1987). Maren and Lee deal with teen angst struggles and connections with their families while also traveling the country in search of something more. They aren’t depicted as straightforward monsters wanting to eat people, but rather as complex characters who must consume people in order to keep their cravings at bay; the “eaters” feel more like vampires than cannibals in ways. The film takes place in the ‘80s as well, so there’s a sense of these characters being pushed to the outside like many AIDS victims were in the Reagan era.
Guadagnino puts the story and character emotions first and the horror second. When the macabre moments do come though, they hit hard. Each scene of bloodshed has suspense built in and is framed creatively (especially one in a cornfield). Sully’s presence is always felt as well, so there’s an underlying tension to the film even as the scenes of violence are few and far between. Rylance is quietly creepy as this character, who feels like he could have stepped out of a Stephen King work. The character almost feels supernatural beyond just his strong sense of smell, but Guadagnino never outright confirms this.
Russell and Chalamet also turn in terrific performances. Russell makes Maren interesting as she goes from somewhat innocent to learning how the world can shatter her in different ways (her father only leaves behind a tape for her to listen to after he abandons her, for example). Chalamet brings the expected “cool guy outcast” edge to Lee, but he doesn’t overdo it. The character always feels like he has a sense of tragedy underneath him, which the audience learns more about as the layers eventually peel back.
With assistance from cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan and editor Marco Costa, Guadagnino gives Bones and All a look and feel that is loose and painterly while occasionally having bursts of the avant-garde. The main scenes of dialogue feel meticulously planned while the traveling sequences separating these have much more of a fluid approach. Guadagnino gives texture to the material by capturing both the grime of the streets and the honey-kissed skies on Maren and Lee’s journey.
The great duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide the music score for Bones and All. With soft acoustic touches and some occasionally darker soundscapes, they provide a range of melancholic tracks that flow with the tone well. “Atmosphere” by Joy Division also makes its way into the soundtrack, along with other fitting tunes.
In a year full of great horror films, Bones and All is a standout. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story with – ahem – bite that stays away from obvious and ironic touches. Guadagnino could have possibly shaved 15 minutes off of it to tighten the midsection, but it still works as a sad and suspenseful film as is.
My Grade: 8.3/10 (letter grade equivalent: A-)
Running Time: 2h 10min