What to Watch Verdict
Bones and All delivers on its crossover premise of vicious bloodshed and passionate feelings, even if the road traveled is bumpier and with a few quieter pit stops.
The ensemble is breathes their parts (with a few fun surprises)
Gore is cranked up high
The hybrid of horror and romance is very alive
A bit of storytelling fat is left on the bone
Performances can get lost in the lulls
The tone wavers to a detriment at times
Luca Guadagnino's arthouse cannibal romance Bones and All is missing the expressive spark that defines Guadagnino's prior works. A Bigger Splash is a richly theatrical dilemma, Suspiria dripping with witchy dread and Call Me By Your Name dangerously passionate. But Guadagnino's adaptation of Camille DeAngelis' flesh-hungry novel never replicates the sensationalism, instead meandering as a romantic road-trip drama with gory pit stops. Performers are asked to spotlight humanity and resilience as outcasts surviving on rural America's outskirts, yet the extremity of the movie's cannibalistic motifs becomes curiously mundane.
Taylor Russell (Waves, Lost in Space)stars as 18-year-old Maren, a cannibal adolescent whose father (played by André Holland) leaves with no other means to help his unique daughter. Maren plans to ride buses until she finds her estranged mother, but interruptions are plenty. She meets an aged cannibal named Sully (an exceptionally ponytailed Mark Rylance steals scenes), who teaches her the gift of sniffing out others with their diets. Using her newfound ability, Maren strikes a relationship with friendly loner in Timothée Chalamet's (Dune, Call Me By Your Name) Lee. Together, Maren and Lee feast their way through backroad towns, almost like bloody-mouthed Bonnie and Clyde types. On the run, in the name of love, just trying to figure out their crazy existence together.
The romance burns as bright as the sun over a Nebraska cornfield. The chemistry between Russell and Chalamet oozes like crimson blood spurting from freshly bitten neck wounds. David Kajganich's adapted screenplay does not fail the outsider's connection between society's monsters, nor do Russell or Chalamet undersell schoolyard lust amidst forbidden urges. Guadagnino takes "monsters" by civility's standards and allows them to embrace, exhibit compassion and indulge in ordinary pleasures despite their despicable practices; similar to Guillermo del Toro's work. Cannibalism falls into the background as Russell and Chalamet thrive together.
Maybe that'll be a problem for some. Bones And All emphasizes gruesome cannibal effects when Sully, Maren and Lee gnaw torsos open or sink teeth into forearm muscle like a family barbeque. Sound design captures every nauseating squelch and swallow, while actors hunch on all fours like jungle predators tearing apart a newly slain meal. Guadagnino's special effects department recreates the act of consuming flesh to a disturbing, revolting degree, which tonally contrasts against Maren and Lee's unconventional "meat-cute" — maybe in a good way or maybe in a distracting way, depending on the viewer.
The act of consumption becomes a moody commentary on life or death. Lee's characterized as an addict for his rebellious and sometimes reckless chow-downs, while Sully only seeks those already expiring, not to kill out of selfishness. Rules and safety precautions make the morbid cuisine seem less diabolical, juxtaposed against traumatizing glimpses of blood-soaked feeders with leftover skin morsels stuck to dried red ickiness on their chests. Imagery even a decorated horror veteran like myself won't forget.
Then again, Bones and All isn't really a horror movie. It's a character drama about a lovestruck couple, smiling while coasting down open roads, sunset cuddles on weedy hillsides and pledging devotion to someone else who could be your demise — yet you're all either have.
The raw emotion Guadagnino channels is powerful as cannibals talk about their "first times," unloading sorrowful lost-in-the-world crisis language. Yet the rambling nature of this two-hour-plus ride sometimes feels on auto-pilot. As good as performances may be and as shocking the violence becomes, there are flatter dramatic gaps between both standout romantic highs and vile stomach-churning lows (narratively speaking). Guadagnino's never afraid of lengthier durations, but he's usually able to sustain a brisk clip that proves longer durations aren't immediate buzzkills.
Bones and All does a lot of things right. Arseni Khachaturan's dirt road cinematography presents as handheld and feral to complement the movie’s cannibal primality, cleverly jostling more when panic ensues. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross compose a breezy score that plucks acoustic guitars and accentuates the softness in actions, rarely laying on heavier like a horror movie's background intensity.
Luca Guadagnino tethers cruel massacres to heartfelt healing as few can, but not without dragging feet (and not just when moving corpses). Bones and All tests the young adult boundaries of love, death and those we choose who choose us back, striking some vivid genre blending despite spells where the experience pauses to catch its breath.
Bones and All is now playing in select movies theaters in the US. It expands to more US theaters and UK cinemas on November 23.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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