“Bones and All” is about two people on the margins of society, and while the cannibal perspective is there, Luca Guadagnino’s beauteous directing power makes the focus on lovers coping with their inherited curses and their uncertain futures an engrossing watch.
Described as “eaters,” Lee and Marin, played by Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, respectively, have the compulsion to eat raw flesh and use supernatural sniffing powers to detect others like them. Marin is coming to terms with the emotional ramifications of her family life through a quiet, subtle performance by Russell that exudes a sense of longing for someone to understand and a search for meaning. The exploration of her tumultuous backstory marks some of the most interesting parts of the meandering direction of the plot. It feels as if this exploration comes a little late in the film’s runtime to be as dramatically thrilling as it could be, however, but still an essential domino toppling moment for Marin’s character arc.
Lee’s backstory is traumatic and deeply buried, catalyzing his drifting solitude until he meets Marin. Chalamet delivers an expected high-caliber performance being likably offbeat — despite his immoral actions — and drawing a captivating sympathy to his fear of the pain that haunts his past family life.
Both Lee and Marin are navigating the world with their curse in different ways, which leads to ideological conflicts and frustrations about themselves projected onto each other. The romance has a strong foundation when their issues arise, however, because of the bond they form over their common cannibalism. These romantic moments are felt most honestly and bare in cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan’s perfectly framed shots, where Chalamet and Russell use their eyes and facial expressions to communicate with each other, building a sincere connection between both leads. Khachaturan depicts the sensuality that Guadagnino has been known for. Surprisingly, this is a first-time collaboration but their collective peculiar and amorous vision is one of the biggest strengths of the film.
Intimate moments always exist in Guadagnino’s wheelhouse. After foraying into the picturesque romance “Call Me by Your Name” and then the twisted but entertaining horror remake “Suspiria,” Guadagnino has decided to throw both genres together in this body horror romance. Both elements are done quite well in their own spotlights, with the horror showing gory, disgusting flesh-eating but often keeping the camera’s focus on something else. In an early scene, the camera cuts away to a victim’s family photos, showing the humanity and life of the person who is now being feasted on. It is a horrific moment as sounds of munching and slurping can be heard but tinged with a sadness that Guadanigno masterfully captures.
Mark Rylance’s Sully is a lonely figure whose creepy pride in keeping the hair of all of his victims and a penchant for talking in the third person make him nothing short of eccentric. Rylance, a master of his craft, is convincing as a man that has been alone too long and has multiple screws loose. His strange desperation and sadness make Sully a cautionary tale of the film, with an unpredictable nature that glues the eyes to the screen.
Another ode to the cinematography is the midwest Americana landscape, which is a stunning and fitting backdrop to Lee and Marin’s journey. The shots of them rolling into new towns with bare parking lots, lived-in diners and majestic fields capture a rural America that feels as alienated as the two main characters that inhabit it.
The direction of the movie seems at conflict with itself at times where its ambitions either trot to a road trip movie encountering strange cannibal individuals such as Sully and Michael Stuhlbarg’s blood-curdling character, or a road trip movie dedicated to the characters hanging out and learning more about each other. The former was an idea left wanting more and could have fused more seamlessly with the latter. Specific story decisions, especially in the ending, come off as surprisingly predictable and a type of open-ended thread that plays as a partial disservice to the characters than a fitting conclusion.
Behind all of these characters and striking imagery is a gorgeous score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The simple, blissful plucking guitar provides a perfect pairing of sentimentality with profoundly romantic cinematography. The ending song is a sorrowful piece with a soft disposition that directly contrasts the carnal scene in a chillingly lovely kind of way.
The music, however like the film, occasionally clashes its tenderhearted nature with disturbing tension. The formula makes for an off-kilter but successful romance that sometimes gets directionless in its concept of the story. Despite that, Guadagnino has crafted a well-realized world that uses cannibalism as an absurd and thrilling horror element, and a mechanism for Lee and Marin’s journey as outsiders of society.
The heart of the movie, however, is the bonding of two people over a similar disease they cannot control, which draws comparisons to people who felt estranged from society through either addiction or sexuality in the 1980s. They are outsiders of society, but through Guadagnino’s compassionate insight, it is extremely difficult not to get invested.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars