"Bones and All" Review
At this point, I have to ask, “What can’t Luca Guadagnino do?” For as much his signature brand of visual poetry seems to stay consistent throughout his films, the genres he chooses to instill them upon cannot be more wildly different.
2009’s I Am Love had Tilda Swinton speak Italian with a Russian accent in a story of romantic affairs. Swinton stayed with him for his next film, A Bigger Splash, except this time her character, a rock star on vacation, doesn’t speak in order to save her vocal cords. The nastiness of that film would not be found in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, with a vulnerable star-making performance by Timothée Chalamet grabbing headlines and awards attention. But then not even a year later came a wild pivot in the form of his (excellent) remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic, Suspiria. Adding an extra hour to the runtime, Guadagnino’s take on the material was both depressingly realistic and batshit crazy, stripping the original of its distinct color palette while still maintaining its own sense of beauty. And now, after a brief detour into television with his 8-part HBO miniseries We Are Who We Are, Guadagnino seems to have finally found a project that takes elements from each of his past works and combines them into something extraordinarily original.
Maren (Taylor Russell) has a problem. Apart from living on the fringes of Reagan-era American society, she also has an uncontrollable tendency to consume human flesh. She’s a full-blooded cannibal down to her DNA, thanks in part to her mother’s genes. She tries her best to suppress these urges, but every once in a while they get unleashed, leading someone to get hurt and Maren and her dad to skip town. After years of this tortuous cycle, Maren’s father decides that enough is enough, leaving her to fend for herself. He leaves behind her birth certificate, a clue she uses to track down her long-lost mother in order to understand this affliction.
On the road, she comes across an assortment of crazy creatures, the first being Sully (Mark Rylance), a fellow “Eater” who talks to himself in the third person and drifts across the country fulfilling his thirst. A strange, yet also oddly educational, experience with him pushes Maren further down her path. She bumps into another Eater named Lee (Timothée Chalamet) who seems to be living by himself just as she is. From there, the two disillusioned youths trek across middle America, finding out more about themselves and their place in all this mess.
Adapting Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 book of the same name, Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich drip feed information about the condition of Eaters. The first half hour, with much playing out during Maren’s encounter with Sully, dedicates itself to understanding the physical and mental pain of needing to consume human flesh. How can a person live with themselves knowing that they’ll always have an unsatisfying hunger, and the only way to temporarily cure it is to eat another human being? It’s a dangerous question, one that doesn’t have a perfect answer that keeps everyone from getting hurt.
Lee thinks he has it figured out, so as long as he doesn’t think deeply about the repercussions of his actions. Chalamet’s performance is the serious version of his from Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, going mostly with the flow as he accepts his fate. Rylance, on the other hand, might as well still be playing his character from Don’t Look Up, with his awkwardly creepy demeanor and southern cadence hinting at the anguish he’s been through. Russell, who burst onto the scene with Trey Edward Shults’ 2017 family drama Waves, finds the perfect balance between youthful naivety and real-world ruggedness. And then there’s also the brief Call Me By Your Name reunion as Michael Stuhlbarg wreaks havoc on your nerves as a redneck Eater that may or may not have a taste for his own kind.
Even with all the gruesome body horror, Guadagnino fills this story with rich emotional resonance. At the center of it all is a love story between two young adults who must come to terms with who they are individually and together. It just so happens that the film with the biggest heart this year also contains several sequences of actual human hearts being devoured.