Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) are fine young cannibals. And she — Maren, that is — particularly drives me crazy like no one else (no pun intended). After seeing her performances in Escape Room (2019) and its 2021 sequel, Bones and All is where she excels the most as an actress so far. Russell’s sympathetic performance, coupled with her magnetic screen presence had me invested in her character arc right from the beginning.
We first met her as an introverted and socially awkward 18-year-old girl. One of her classmates wants Maren to come over to her place for a sleepover. That means she needs to sneak out of the house because her somehow overprotective father (André Holland) locks her bedroom door from the outside when she goes to bed at night. And she manages to do so and subsequently made her way to her classmate’s house. Well, let’s just say it was a mistake for her to do so — a result that her father suggests they must skip town after he finds out about it.
Although it looks as if they can start a new life, her father suddenly abandoned her and left her a cassette recording (FYI, this movie takes place in the ’80s era) explaining his action. He’s no longer able to shoulder the burden of taking care of her anymore due to her addiction to human flesh. But he did leave her some cash and her birth certificate.
With no one else to look after her except Maren is entirely on her own, she sets out on a road trip to locate her mom (Chloë Sevigny). From there, she encounters different people along the way, notably Sully (Mark Rylance), who happens to be an “eater” (a term for cannibal) just like her. Then, there’s another eater named Lee (Timothée Chalamet), where Maren chose to tag along with him. They eventually become friends before their bond grows stronger throughout the journey.
Returning to the horror territory for the second time after the 2018’s overblown remake of Suspiria, director Luca Guadagnino once again reunites with his frequent screenwriter David Kajganich. The result? Bones and All is one of Guadagnino’s best works to date. He doesn’t shy away from blood and gore when comes to the cannibalism parts of the movie. It’s visceral and it does make me feel a little queasy watching the eaters munching the flesh, bone and all and having their mouths and faces caked with blood.
But the graphic violence and its grim subject matter aren’t the only selling points here because Bones and All is more than just a genre film. Guadagnino also skilfully blends a coming-of-age drama and a YA romance of the budding relationship between Maren and Lee. They are more than just pretty faces as the movie spends deliberate time for us to get to know their characters. They may have been cannibals but deep down, they are lonely souls in search of a sense of belonging and identity.
The cannibals in this movie aren’t just a literal term since they happen to serve as a sneaky metaphor for queerness — the very subject matter that Guadagnino previously explored in Call Me by Your Name, the acclaimed 2017 romantic drama that famously earned Timothée Chalamet a breakthrough performance.
Dig deeper and you’ll find Bones and All indirectly slipping into the allegorical theme of addiction, which can be seen in Maren and Lee’s way of (unconventional) living as eaters. They have no choice but to feed on human flesh, even though at one point, we see them trying to live a “normal” life.
While Russell is the star of the show, let’s not forget about Timothée Chalamet, who equally impresses in his rebellious but vulnerable role as Lee. Both he and Russell share terrific, lived-in chemistry that made me feel like they are meant for each other. Mark Rylance, in the meantime, pulls off an unnervingly creepy supporting turn as Sully, who loves to address himself in the third person. Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green (yes, the same director who gave us the disappointing trilogy-closing chapter of Halloween Ends last month) show up in memorable cameos as two rednecks, who crosses paths with Maren and Lee.
On the technical side, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ distinctly haunting score is worth mentioning here. And so does Arseni Khachaturan, whose stunning cinematography perfectly captured the sun-kissed midwestern United States backdrops.
The only downside that prevents me from giving Bones and All a five-star rating is the movie’s 130-minute runtime. Certain scenes tend to linger too long for their own good that a tighter edit might help to improve the pace, even though I understand the movie is meant to be a slow burn. But a slow burn that overstays its welcome — again, for some scenes anyway — is a different story altogether.