The Plot: Middle America, 1988. Now an adult, Maren (Taylor Russell) is abandoned by her father when she decides to snack on a friend’s finger. It seems that Maren has a taste for human flesh, something which her father was all too aware of and now wants her to deal with it herself. Soon enough she encounters a fellow eater in the lonely Sully (Mark Rylance), who smells her from a distance but wants to get closer to this kindred spirit. She resists though and runs away, encountering a more appealing eater in the form of Lee (Timothee Chalamet). He’s a drifter on the road from state to state, but they develop a connection. However, Maren is unaware that Sully is tracking them…
The Verdict: Sometimes being too ambitious can backfire and torpedo the very thing that you passionately believe in. So it was with Luca Guadagnino’s failed attempt to remake and outdo Dario Argento’s acknowledged horror classic Suspiria. Still, it did have its moments and demonstrated that the director could just about straddle the commercial side of horror and maintain his own arthouse sensibilities. His latest film Bones And All continues that trend and is a more assured, confident piece of filmmaking that comfortably joins up the aforementioned divides and packs a gut punch too (even when the guts are flying about). It’s so much more than the sum of its parts too. It’s not just a tentative love story built up over a road movie with lots of twists and turns. It also deals with the taboo subject of cannibalism in a way that moves far beyond the grimy likes of the notorious Cannibal Holocaust and into something more human and relatable. Not that anyone will be tempted to develop a taste for fingers afterwards (not of the chocolate biscuit variety)…
Bones And All is based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis, adapted here by Guadagnino’s regular collaborator David Kajganich. The book has been distilled down into a journey of self-discovery for a young woman who knows little about her family’s past and even less about what the future might hold for her. Maren is something of a blank slate to start with then, upon which other characters soon come to leave their mark. Not all of them have her best interests at heart though, but she soon comes to identify with fellow cannibal Lee and they hit the road together as their romance blooms. Guadagnino evokes a distinctive depiction of various places in a certain time to the point where the film comes across as like a product of the 1980s. Its closest spirit animal is Paul Schrader’s under-rated take on Cat People. Guadagnino similarly has his human but animalistic characters stalking and prowling the land, sizing each other up as they feast their eyes on their next meal. This also extends to the excellent score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which evocatively underscores the tempestuous temptations of the flesh amid latent murderous intent.
Taylor Russell, already something of a scream queen following her lead role in the devious Escape Room films, gives a very different performance here. It’s a tricky balance to pull off a role as a sympathetic cannibal in the making, but she does so with ease. She’s not the one screaming this time around – leave that to some unfortunate characters. There’s more to it here than just Guadagnino’s direction. She embodies the character of Maren and her motivations so that the audience is on her side throughout, whatever we might think of her flesh-eating tendencies. She’s a name to watch. Chalamet for his part is equally good in the kind of role that continues to push his range as an actor. In fact, nobody drops the ball on the acting front here. The supporting cast are all up to the challenge, with even the smallest roles by Chloe Sevigny and the original Suspiria’s Jessica Harper resonating with their single scenes. Mark Rylance steals the show though with his mild-mannered but rather malevolent character in every sense of the word.
It’s fair enough to say that Bones And All won’t be to, ahem, everyone’s taste. It’s a little too arty and offbeat for mainstream audiences, but yet has the backing of a major studio which shows confidence in the material and the filmmakers. This makes it a rather different proposition as a horror film aimed over the usually cosy Thanksgiving weekend in the US. It’s uncompromising filmmaking, even down to its titles. Viewers might want to brush up on abbreviations for American states, as there are no concessions here for the international viewer (a little odd, considering that Guadagnino is Sicilian). But yet there’s an undeniable narrative and visual power to Bones And All which makes it more than just nightmare fuel to get the adrenaline rushing. As horror films go this year, this one is several hacks and slashes above the usual fare and leaves an impression after the credits roll. It’s a well-cooked three-course meal to feast upon and should leave you satisfied right up to its scenic closing shot.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Bones And All
Feast on this
Bones And All (Italy / USA / 18 / 131 mins)
In short: Feast on this
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Taylor Russell, Timothee Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, Chloe Sevigny.