Bones and All

Bones and All is simultaneously a brutal horror movie and a passionate romance. I have no clue how people will respond to it. Will it be too artsy for the crowd looking for jump scares and too violent for the crowd looking to swoon over a love story? Or will both audiences respond to what an intelligent, beautifully-made film it is? Hopefully the latter. 2022 has been a landmark year for the horror genre, and director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) has brought us one of the very best.

Based on the Camille DeAngelis novel, the movie stars Taylor Russell (Waves) as Maren, an 18-year-old high school student. She's also an “eater,” i.e. a cannibal. After spontaneously taking a bite out of a peer, her father (Andre Holland) hustles her to a new town, then abandons her. He leaves her with a little cash, along with a birth certificate that bears the name of the mother she never knew. Maren hops a bus, deciding to see if she can find her mom.

The trek puts her in contact with other eaters. First she meets Sully (Mark Rylance), a man who claims to be benevolent but throws off creepy vibes. He teaches her the art of smelling for food. Then she meets Lee (Timothee Chalamet), a young guy who, like her, has fled his home because of a proclivity toward cannibalism. He agrees to aid in her search. Before long, the two fall in love. The need to feed is ever-present, though, leading to some difficult choices they have to make. Michael Stuhlbarg has a small, chilling cameo as another eater the young lovers encounter.

If the idea of cannibalism turns your stomach, be prepared that Bones and All depicts it graphically. There are multiple grisly killings, along with shots of characters biting into flesh and ending up with blood all over their faces. Despite being gross in that sense, Guadagnino is right to show it unflinchingly. His refusal to shy away crucially sells the revulsion Maren feels in needing to intermittently do it. She has not asked to be this way, but it's her awful reality and it cannot be escaped.

That, in turn, serves to solidify the intense bond she forms with Lee. At the core, Bones and All is about connection, specifically the need to have it in extreme or unusual circumstances. Maren doesn't know anyone else like her until she hits the road. Sully understands, yet frightens her. Lee is far more sympathetic. He doesn't judge, being in the same position. Finding someone else who accepts her status as an eater provides the sort of belonging she has thus far been unable to experience.

Russell and Chalamet are two of the best actors of their generation. They form a meaningful chemistry between their characters, revealing as much through gestures and glances as through overt dialogue. From their efforts, we comprehend how alone Maren and Lee are, and why their gravitation toward each other is so profound. The stars infuse Bones and All with palpable emotion. Mark Rylance ably backs them up, making Sully such a pervasively eerie figure that the movie achieves an anxious quality whenever he comes onscreen.

Guadagnino pulls out all the stops for the last ten minutes, which are the most gory and the most touching at the same time. Everything Bones and All is about gets tied together in the finale. You walk away with a mixture of feelings, some contradictory, just as the film intends. Life seldom has easy resolutions when you're an eater. Pleasure is inevitably followed by misery, and vice versa. It's a powerhouse conclusion for a story that hits you in places you didn't know you could be hit.

out of four

Bones and All is rated R for strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 11 minutes.