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- Reviewed from the 2022 Venice International Film Festival
“Whatever you and I got, it’s got to be fed,” Lee (Timothée Chalamet) tells his lover Maren (Taylor Russell) in Luca Guadagnino’s deliciously dark cannibal road movie, something of a return to the (dis)comfort zone of Suspiria (2018) after forays into TV drama and the obligatory pandemic video short. Pushing the boundaries of teen horror, screenwriter David Kajganich’s clever adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 novel of the same name plays like a red-meat version of Twilight (2008) – ravenous, sexy and surprisingly moving.
It’s the mid-eighties and Maren is an eighteen-year-old high-school student trying to fit in. She’s only recently arrived, she doesn’t have many friends, and her strict dad (André Holland) locks her in her room at night. But when she sneaks out to join the other girls for a sleepover, the reason for her father’s caution becomes apparent. It’s not to protect her from the world, but to protect the world from her.
Maren is a cannibal. But her dad can’t take it anymore and bails, leaving her to fend for herself with some cash, her birth certificate and a cassette full of backstory. She decides to search for the mother she never met and learn the nature of who she really is. Help comes in the guise of Sully, an amiable codger played with soft-voiced menace by Mark Rylance. He has a creepy way of referring to himself in the third person: “Sully’s never dully,” he mutters to himself. He reveals that there are more “eaters” and that they can smell each other. He’s also a scavenger: he finds people who are about to die and scoffs them when they do. Spooked by Sully, who has a habit of wearing baggy Y-fronts while feeding, Maren joins up with Lee, a pale, floppy-haired young tough, skinny as a splinter, with a taste in tasselled shirts.
Like his countryman Paolo Sorrentino, Guadagnino is a highly visual director, but his style is always at the service of his characters and their relationships rather than mere look-at-me flash. An early shot through a glass coffee table perfectly captures the intimacy of teenage friendship – their makeup and snacks partly obscuring the view – before horrifyingly ripping it to shreds. Much more than in the mannered Suspiria, Bones and All establishes its world as at once recognizably generic – The Lost Boys and Near Dark (both 1987) come to mind – and as solidly believable as a phone book. Elliott Hostetter’s production design creates a credible world of diners, supermarkets and boarding rooms that Lee and Maren pass through on their journey. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross complement their atmospheric score with a canny and eclectic selection of eighties pop, including Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘Lick it Up’ by Kiss, to which Lee rocks out.
Guadagnino sinks his teeth into the kinds of coming-of-age issues common to teen films, taking something of a Garth Marenghi approach: subtext is for cowards. Lee and Maren’s carnal and carnivorous appetites intertwine, with Lee’s sexuality particularly open (at one point, he cruises a fairground to pick up sex and dinner). They also fret about their morality, looking for some way out of their predicament and longing to settle down together and live normal lives. The choice is stark: be themselves and live as outcasts, or restrain who they are. But that would mean abstaining from each other and for Lee and Maren, looking as tasty as they do, abstinence just isn’t on the cards.
The two leads are superb, with Russell particularly affecting as a young woman torn between her head, heart and stomach. Chalamet – who is also one of the film’s producers – has an insolent confidence in his own beauty but still manages to project a wounded insecurity. When his young sister insults his shirt, he almost unconsciously takes it off and scrunches it up in his hands as he responds. He’s also reunited briefly with Call Me By Your Name co-star Michael Stuhlbarg, who shows up as an overalls-wearing grease monkey, taking all the sexy out of cannibalism, and urging Maren and Lee to commit to eating “bones and all”, promising it to be an even greater rush.
Guadagnino has created an effective and gruesome shocker. Davide Favargiotti and Michele Gualdrini’s sound design amplifies the already grisly effects: the sound of chomping and slurping can be heard off screen. But Bones and All is also the tale of a lost young pair, finding each other and themselves. It is wryly funny, gleefully entertaining and oddly touching. Delicious and nutritious.