Despite strong central performances, Bones and All suffers an immediate disadvantage due to director Luca Guadagnino’s inability to commit to the tone of the story he’s telling. A story about cannibalism that only deals in the macabre when seen through the eyes of our protagonists as they watch others like them devour without remorse. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet make for an enticing pair and the camera loves them — as does Guadagnino. There lies the problem because what might’ve been startling and transformative instead allows the two actors to model fake blood, artfully splattered on their clothes, painted down their faces in a way that doesn’t take away from their beauty. It’s grotesque, yes, apparent in moments with Mark Rylance’s Sully, but by struggling to balance the horror with the coming-of-age love story, Bones and All fails to capture the best of either.
Russell is a revelation though as Maren, a young woman who, after a violent confrontation with a friend, is forced on the run by her father (André Holland in a brief but memorable performance) and abandons her after realizing her “affliction” can’t be stopped. That being of course her need to feed on human flesh, someone called an “eater” she learns once she runs into the unsettling Sully. As she makes her way through the backroads of America, she meets Lee (Chalamet,) an enigmatic fellow eater. Her search for her origins and a means to stifle the want in her corresponds with the blossoming love story between the two.
Shot by Arseni Khachaturan, their moments of flirtation and delicate inquiries into one another’s lives works to further imbalance the story’s tone, though in this case it’s done with enough beauty that it makes for strong contrast. It’s in moments of solitude and shared trauma between Maren and Lee where the film works best because they are the greatest displays of the film’s heart. Here are two lost souls, outcasts from society, attempting to better themselves while facing alienation from society. They come together due to their inability to be accepted by others and that is captured with soft light by Khachaturan as the two sit idle on the side of the road, Lee exposing his innermost secrets, or while the two meander through a town fair, young and in love with nothing else to weight them down for but the briefest moment.
That both instances turn to violence should work because the scenes are set to destabilize viewers by disarming them with the romanticism inherent to the story with the bloody backdrop intrinsic to the DNA. Based on the novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis and adapted by David Kajganich, the baseline of the narrative is promising with plenty of threads to pull on and ways in which to use a story of two cannibal love as a means to explore those who live on the fringes of society, but there’s little substance to be found by the time the films reached its end, bogged down already by a film that feels much longer than its actual length.
The frustration the film evokes comes down to that lack of substance because in a film that poses itself as meaningful it, in the end, means nothing. A vacant, vapid, hollowed-out shell of a film dressed up as arthouse prestige, Guadagnino once again cements himself as a clinical storyteller. While possessing an eye for beautiful images, it amounts to little if the product is as hollow as this. Russell and Chalamet look good together on camera with their endless cheekbones and waiflike aesthetic, but there’s no chemistry shared, and, if at all, it’s platonic, nothing with friction.
Chalamet is best in the aforementioned roadside scene, baring his soul as the sun dims. Russell is most enlivened when she learns about her birth mother, her bitterness and quelled rage hitting with accuracy as she condemns those who left her behind rather than staying to teach her, those who refused to see her as anything other than a monster. Scenes of this level of melancholy or introspection are short-lived though, as the story plays as snapshots, revealing little through pit stops on their road trip to redemption.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross does the majority of the heavy lifting for the atmospheric sense of dread the film lays thick, and it along with Rylance’s sickening performance best capture the elements of the film Guadagnino and Kajganich was attempting to bottle. However, there is only so much that can be done to elevate a film with the consistency of smoke.
Bones and All is is select theaters now. Watch the trailer below.
Featured Image Courtesy of United Artists Releasing
Bones and All Review - 5/10