A strong stomach and impeccable gag reflex isn’t all that’s needed when viewing “Bones and All”: it would be helpful if you brought along a great deal of patience. Director Luca Guadagnino‘s screen adaptation of the 2015 Camille DeAngelis novel about two cannibals on a road trip through the American Midwest is a series of hits and misses, with empty themes and shallow characters that he somehow manages to keep interesting for most of the film’s duration. Thankfully, the bloody, stomach-churning scenes aren’t played solely for shock value, and the film is entertaining if disjointed.
Teenager Maren (Taylor Russell) has a compulsion for cannibalism that started at three years old when she ate her babysitter. In an attempt to cover up her depraved behavior, she and her father (André Holland) are constantly on the move. After Maren takes a literal bite out of a classmate at a slumber party, her dad declares that he just can’t take it anymore and runs off in the middle of the night. Abandoned and alone, Maren decides to track down her mother (Chloë Sevigny) in an attempt to get answers as to why she is the way she is. Along the way, the young women meets a host of other “eaters” who share her dark secret, including the terrifying serial killer and certified weirdo Sully (Mark Rylance) and a cute drifter named Lee (Timothée Chalamet. No longer lonely, Maren feels a connection with Lee, and the two embark on a road trip that develops into a romance.
It’s a story about outsiders who find companionship in each other, told through the lens of an 80s road movie / cannibal love story. The horrific premise is also shocking and disturbing, offering no real explanation as to the origins of Maren’s instinctive behavior and need to consume human flesh. For fans of the book, be aware that screenwriter David Kajganich has made some big changes that simplify the narrative for the screen. Listing them here would reveal too many spoilers, but Kaiganich manages to capture the essence of DeAngelis’ original story.
The film requires a strong suspension of disbelief because the audience is expected to accept that there are many “eaters” walking among the general population, and especially a cute, age-appropriate one that Maren just so happens to randomly meet. The romantic relationship is cringey and disturbing, especially when Guadagnino’s camera shows the couple feeding together. Awwwww, what a match made in heaven!
Russell is terrific in the lead role as the sturdy and strong Maren, a young woman who is battling so many demons in her life, yet she strives to understand her biological impulses. Rylance delivers a performance that is so spine-chilling it will haunt your nightmares for years to come. Chalamet’s turn is the one that’s disappointing here, and it’s not just because he mumbles through his dialogue. None of the characters have a richness or heft to them, which would give a deeper meaning to the story.
As is the norm with most novels turned movies, the film feels overstuffed with complex story elements that are slightly rushed because there’s so much packed into so little time. The narrative pacing slows considerably as it progresses but towards the end, it still feels like big chunks of the story are missing. This proves to be the film’s biggest caveat, dragging it down and leaving too much room for interpretation and creating more questions than answers (is this a metaphor for addiction, homosexuality, a fear of being loved, or more? Who is Sully, really? Is there a genetic defect that creates “eaters?” What happens in the future when there’s a criminal DNA database?).
Despite its imperfections in storytelling and execution, “Bones and All” is at least something that will get you talking. It has plenty of repulsive, gross, disturbing, and WTF? moments, but that doesn’t make it a horror film. Sure, I felt nauseated multiple times (during the bloody, gory finale in particular), but this macabre coming-of-age story is a lesson in life, love, and the need for human connection.
By: Louisa Moore