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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Bones & All // Film Review

Somewhere in the DNA of Bones & All is a calm and resonant road trip movie about lost parents, found family and impressive James Dean impressions. But also in its guts is a roadhouse slasher, a gore-filled horror show bursting with images of chewed flesh and other disfigurements (a woman at my screening fainted), centred around Mark Rylance’s ponytailed villain Sully. It is never both of these films simultaneously, moving between the two at such a random pace that coming into any scene, there is no telling what kind of story we’re about to get.

This isn’t a criticism, by the way.

Bones & All is the story of Maren (Taylor Russell), an eighteen-year old girl who wakes up one morning to find that her father has vanished into the wind, leaving only her birth certificate and a tape confessing that he doesn’t have what it takes to look after her anymore. We learn that Maren is a cannibal, or an ‘eater’ as they call themselves, compelled to devour human meat and totally incapable of resisting that urge. It goes beyond addiction; this is a built-in nature, and as we come to understand, the lives of eaters tend to end in one of three ways; suicide, institutionalisation or a monstrous detachment from humanity (aka their prey).

Travelling alone at first, Maren quickly runs into Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a character presumably formed from Chalamet watching Rebel Without A Cause eight or nine times in quick succession. He does an impeccable Dean, with the added twist that Lee too is an eater. James Dean never had to brood about cannibalism, which gives Chalamet a new dimension to play with. Lee left home when he was seventeen, and is similarly estranged from his parents.

In contrast to the other cannibals Maren has crossed paths with, including the aforementioned Sully and a particularly nasty overalls-clad creature played by Michael Stuhlbarg, Lee is a breath of fresh air, and vice versa. The two become convinced through the other that there is hope for a good life as an 'eater' - they even begin to think about a future together.

Bones & All feels like a hybrid between director Luca Guadagnino’s previous films Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria, hamfistedly fusing the doomed love pangs of the former with the body horror of the latter. He has proven himself exceptional at both, and there is rarely a frame in the film that won’t leave your heart either aching or pumping. Russell and Chalamet excel with gorgeous chemistry, filling each scene of their journey across Middle America with sparks and charm. Russell in particular stands out as a true star; as Chalamet himself has pointed out while doing press, it is her film.

Which is why it is a little disappointing when the film complicates Maren's arc by pitting her against serial cannibal Sully, a villain so absurdly sinister that he has spent the last few decades braiding the hair of his victims together to craft a rope. He’s a sleazy B-movie villain whose very existence shatters the romanticism of this world whenever he appears. Rylance is an exquisite theatre actor, but his work on the screen has lately overshot into the shrill and stagey (though nothing here is as bad as his work on Don’t Look Up). For the most part, the juxtaposition works a treat. Maren and Lee work hard to convince themselves that they are simply outsiders, rather than criminals burdened with evil desires, and the contrast with Sully does serve as a harsh reality check.

So while it isn’t a criticism to say that Bones & All feels at war between its two genres, I do think it raises some interesting questions about what we choose to show on screen. The film achieves what it sets out to do, and will certainly land with audiences (did I mention the fainting woman - seriously not over that yet), but on a personal note , I have to wonder if there couldn’t have been a more powerful version of the film that trusted its audience to make their own minds up. There is a moral ambiguity in play, but that could have been discerned simply from the clash between the chemistry of Russell and Chalamet versus the biology being shoved down their throats.

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival 2022.


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