The latest film from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name, Suspiria) opens with a meaty pre-title sequence that will make you wince. During a seemingly typical teenage sleepover, shy and slightly awkward Maren (Waves‘ Taylor Russell) appears ready to make a pass at a classmate. Instead, she boldly and unapologetically bites off the girl’s finger. In the midst of the blood-spattered chaos that follows, Maren runs home to dad Frank (Moonlight‘s André Holland) and looks pleading. With the pained exasperation of someone who’s done this all before, he tells his daughter to gather as many of her belongings as possible so they can make a getaway before the cops come.
Frank and Maren duly relocate to another town somewhere in the Midwest, but at this point, he reaches a tipping point and discharges his parental duties. His 18-year-old daughter is left to fend for herself with only a fistful of cash, her birth certificate and a cassette tape – we’re in the ’80s here – in which Frank recounts his struggle to protect Maren from the cannibalistic instincts she began showing as a baby. Maren never knew her mum, who walked out when she was tiny, so she decides to track her down with the hometown listed on her birth certificate as a first port of call.
At this point, Bones and All becomes a strange but intoxicating blend of coming-of-age tale, road movie and ultimately love story. The first fellow “eater” – as the cannibals seem to call themselves – to sniff out Maren is Sully (Mark Rylance), a crumpled middle-aged weirdo who commemorates his victims by weaving their hair into an ever-growing mega-braid. Maren may be coming to terms with the fact she’s also an eater, but she’s visibly repulsed by Sully’s gross trophy. She finds greater common ground with Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a skinny drifter who appears to have figured out a way of making the eater lifestyle work for him. Rightly realising he’ll always be an outsider, he shuttles back and forth between his drab hometown and various Midwestern locales where he can kill, eat and flee before anyone suspects him. It’s lonely, but bearable.
Adapted by Guadagnino’s frequent collaborator David Kajganich from Camille DeAngelis’ award-winning novel, Bones and All is way more nuanced and sophisticated than the average cannibal flick. Though Lee seems to have made peace with who he is and what he does to get by, Maren is grappling with the seismic moral dilemma of being a person whose survival depends on killing others. It’s also a bit protracted and meandering, but then again, perhaps that’s meant to reflect the protracted and meandering journey its protagonists are faced with. Throughout, Guadagnino audaciously but successfully balances some gut-wrenchingly grim and gory scenes with moments of genuine tenderness. It helps that Russell and Chalamet, who also shone in Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, have an easy chemistry that deepens with the narrative. The result? Bones and All is a film with a punchy instant flavour that also leaves a lingering and very bittersweet aftertaste.
- Director: Luca Guadagnino
- Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell, Mark Rylance
- Release date: November 23 (in cinemas)