Bones and All is impossible to turn away from. Grimy, gory, gross—absolutely. Swooningly romantic, gentle, and beautiful—also yes. Many viewers may be turned off by the premise of cannibals eating their way across America’s great plains and sprawling highways, but those who find their interest piqued will surely be rewarded. This is a film with a lot of meat on its bones.
The opening ten minutes hook you right in; they’re a perfect horror short. Maren (played by the excellent Taylor Russell), is the new girl in town and is invited to a sleepover. But her father (André Holland) isn’t so keen; when Maren gets home, he deadbolts her bedroom door shut. She sneaks out anyway, unscrewing her window open, hungry for human connection (or just for humans). Try not to shriek when Maren bites off a bit more than she can chew.
Maren returns, soaked in blood, and her father’s reaction, “Not again,” lets the horror fully sink in. Maren is a born and bred killer, and she’s only getting hungrier with time. As soon as Maren turns 18, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving Maren with only a vague clue to her mother’s whereabouts and horrifying origins. Maren is an eater, with an innate and unexplainable desire for human flesh. ‘Eaters,’ as the cannibals call themselves, all follow different moral codes and can literally find their fellow cannibals by sniffing each other out.
In one of the film’s most harrowing scenes, Maren is smelled and then followed by Sully (a wholly original Mark Rylance), who will make your skin crawl. Sully tracks his victims with a single–minded hunger and tries to relate to Maren with a sinister vulnerability. It’s not long before she cuts loose and runs again, this time crashing into Chalamet’s Lee.
The languorous bloody beginning is jolted to life by Chalamet’s electric presence. Lee comes to the defense of Maren after she’s harassed in a grocery store, goading the drunk customer into picking a fight with a violent physicality. He wildly grabs at moments of joy, breaking into a house and dancing to Kiss, stealing cars and sleeping under stars, and killing with gusto. From then on, Bones and All follows our two young lovers out on the lam.
Russell gives Maren all the freshness and openhearted romanticism of a classic young adult heroine—which she is. Bones and All is adapted from Camilla DeAngelis’s young adult novel of the same name, and Guadagnino infuses the original story with a gruesome edge and a natural, grounded atmosphere.
When Bones and All pulls back from its tight focus on Maren and Lee, it’s a sprawling, nomadic road movie. Guadagnino indulges his love of painterly American landscapes just as much as his gory tableaus and unsettling close ups. The film hustles through as many states as it can, flashing them up on the screen: ID, OH, MT, VA. The very first shots of the film hone in on landscape paintings in the hallway at Maren’s high school, and the most glorious sections of the film simply follow Maren and Lee across the most gorgeous plains and under purple skies. It sets the lovers right into the wide open, American heartland and frames them as perpetual outsiders, only belonging to each other.
Bones and All juggles many genres: road trip movie, lyrical romance, gory horror flick. They coalesce better in some places than others: When it transforms into a rough and gorgeous drifter love story, a la Bonnie and Clyde, it’s near perfection. Chalamet and Russell have a tender chemistry, and they both ache with unfulfilled aspirations.
The film never quite decides if it wants to be a goreful romance or an arthouse horror, and it settles for neither, perhaps losing the highs it could’ve achieved by picking one or the other. Chalamet and Russell drive the movie forward with their wild romantic desperations, but it can feel oddly neutered in some points, drawing back from Lee and Maren’s disagreements over how to best feed themselves rather than digging into raw conflict. The film also loses energy after the pasts that Maren and Lee are both running from reappear. It isolates the two of them from one another, and the film never fully recovers its rhythm.
However, Russell and Chalamet sell the doom–tinged romance with everything they have. They hurl all their love, despair, and hate at each other, particularly in a climactic fight that illuminates the soul of the film.
“I don’t feel right around you,” Marin screams, flailing after a harrowing emotional encounter. She’s trying to run away again, torn apart by anger and grief. But Lee remains immovable. For once in the film, he stands still. “That’s how it is when it’s like this,” he says, trying desperately to convince her of how he feels. “That’s how we’re like.”
What he means, and what Bones and All gets straight to the heart of, is that there’s a kind of love that’s greedy and all consuming. It’s empathetic. It’s cannibalistic. It’s hungry.