Each feature of oneself, no matter how minute, serves as a reminder of those who came before — hair color, height, temperament, or, as explored in Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All,” one’s taste.
Meek and lonesome, 18-year-old Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) lives day to day endlessly on the run given her bouts of cannibalism. Guided only by a tape recording of her father detailing the history of her behavior, the young woman longs to understand herself — even the parts of her identity that are difficult to swallow.
Nauseating on the surface, Guadagnino’s horror-romance film pulses with heart despite being nearly indigestible. When viewers aren’t sinking into their seats with fear, Guadagnino manages to serve up a feast for the eyes, offering a coming of age narrative that speaks to the timorous nature of young adulthood. If one can briefly forget the film’s bare bones, “Bones and All” materializes into something surprisingly tender, chronicling shared trauma and first love.
This sentiment comes, in large part, from Guadagnino’s stamp of direction. A master of his craft, Guadagnino finds beauty in even the dullest of environments. As Maren travels across sultry Midwestern landscapes, the camera lingers on rolling hills and barren highways. This certainly isn’t the idyllic Italian scenery of Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name,” but it’s surprisingly close.
Throughout her travels, Maren meets many fellow “eaters” (yes, that’s what they’re called), but it isn’t until she embarks on a roadtrip with the scrappy, sarcastic Lee (Timothée Chalamet with a mullet) that she feels comfortable enough to reveal the extent of her desires. In sharing Maren’s cannibalistic impulses, Lee mirrors her insecurities; together, the two grapple with the innermost parts of themselves, addressing what they can no longer run away from.
Playing carnival games, dancing to KISS records and smoking cigarettes in the bed of a rusty blue pick-up truck, Maren and Lee gradually weave their identities together and, subsequently, cannot untangle them. Under Guadagnino’s virtuous direction, Chalamet and Russell each deliver career-defining performances. Battered and bloodstained in one moment, the pair are equally sensitive in the next, holding onto one another in desolate fields that exacerbate their feelings of seclusion.
Crafting an alluring body horror film is a tricky feat, but it’s one that Guadagnino manages to pull off with grace — for the most part. Though Lee and Maren’s relationship imbues the film with warmth, viewers must overlook the very premise of “Bones and All” in order for the film to be palatable. In decoding the film as an extensive allegory, it blossoms into something oddly beguiling. However, in order to poke the film’s complex underbelly, one must allow themselves to ignore “Twilight”-adjacent terminology and stellar yet grotesque sound design.
“You don’t think I’m a bad person?” Lee continually asks Maren. For a tag team, “Bonnie and Clyde”-esque cannibal duo, the two are oddly disquieted by a skewed moral compass, one that somehow justifies “feeding,” but continually rejects malicious behavior. In these moments, one briefly zooms out of Guadagnino’s carefully crafted world and must address it head-on.
With care, Guadagnino somehow makes sympathizing with cannibals possible. Throughout their trip in which they encounter various “eaters” including the horrific Sully (Mark Rylance), Maren and Lee strangely become more and more amiable, as if they are separate from the very social sphere they inhabit. In an effort to “be people,” the two must re-enter a world that rejects them; the film’s final act is both compelling and emotional, as if the couple are finally learning what it means to feed off of continual devotion.
“There’s before bones and all. Then there’s after,” raves one of the wide-eyed “eaters” Maren and Lee meet while on the run — and perhaps the same can be said for experiencing Guadagnino’s bloodied masterpiece.