There’s before Bones and All, and after Bones and All…
…When we talk about cannibal movies, common words you might hear to describe them are bloody, grotesque, nauseating, horrific, you know, just plain nasty. There aren’t many cannibalism movies that I would call beautiful, but Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is one of them.
Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis and adapted by David Kajganich (Suspiria 2018), Guadagnino’s latest foray into horror follows Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman born with a voracious need to feast on human flesh. Abandoned by her father, Maren sets out to find her estranged mother, encountering other “Eaters” like herself and finding love along the way in fellow cannibal Lee (Timothee Chalamet). But is happiness possible for two killers cast out by a society that can’t possibly accept them?
A sort of Bonnie and Clyde meets Near Dark with cannibals, Bones and All is an unexpected delight with some tasty lore that marinates in themes which give audiences plenty to chew on (pun 100% intended).
In Maren we meet a shy girl desperate for understanding. Russell is mesmerizing in the role of this person who is doing their best to fit into society yet held back by something which she can barely control. For the Eaters of Bones and All, eating human flesh is as necessary as breathing. They are not your Hannibal Lecter’s or your Leatherface’s. They are complex, broken people in a constant battle within themselves between deciding whether they are good or bad. As it is in real life, the line which divides the two isn’t so clear.
Whether we eat people or are simply “different”, all of us find ourselves on a path for understanding at one point in our lives. Knowing even a single person gets you can make you feel seen in a world that otherwise treats you as invisible. Each character in Bones and All is searching for the same thing; Companionship. Though none would readily admit it, they desire it as much as they do flesh. It’s human to want to be loved. No one in Guadagnino’s film, not even the villains, are true monsters. And that’s what makes this so different from your average cannibal movie. Bones and All approaches its Eaters the same, with an empathy not often granted to people like them.
A heavy sense of loneliness hangs off every frame of the film like flesh on a bone. Raw, ravenous and relentless, it claws deep within the souls of Maren and the others. Sully (Mark Rylance), who first teaches Maren about their kind, gets the hair standing up on your neck thanks to a deliciously unsettling performance from Rylance. Yet for as creepy as he is, there’s a depth of pain within Sully that makes you feel sorry for this friendless man. Lee, on the other hand, is your average closed-off cool guy—which Chalamet nails—but it isn’t long before that armor begins to chip away and we see a devastating portrayal of the sensitive person underneath the blood-soaked face of a killer.
Guadagnino has a gift for finding beauty in the ugliest of places. Bones and All blends the sentimental warmth of love with moments of intense violence that come so fast and hungry it drags you kicking and screaming back to the ferocious nature of this world. Similar to his Suspiria remake, Guadagnino allows long stretches of poignant dialogue which cuts into the depths of humanity before suddenly interrupting them with a shocking intensity that reminds us this is a horror film. While those moments are few and far between, the film never holds back. Instead, Bones and All gives us an up close and way too personal look at both the gory terror and undeniable satisfaction when it comes to the feasting of these characters. Gallons of blood cover the screen at times, but it’s never over the top. All throughout, the film maintains a sense of realism that makes the brutality of the violence all that more uncomfortable.
If there’s any rot which threatens to spoil the meat of Bones and All, it’s that it can meander a bit here and there like a carcass being dragged over the slaughterhouse floor. Without the constant presence of a central antagonist and a runtime of over two hours, the film can feel like that long drive in which the voice in the back of your mind asks, “are we there yet?” But the thing with this romantic horror tale is that it isn’t about the scares or even the cannibalism. It’s a full serving of poetic insight into people craving the rarest thing of all…true love. And in that, it’s an exquisite meal that exceeds expectations.
I’ve never encountered a cannibalism film as emotional and profound as Bones and All.
Guadagnino’s film is first and foremost a character study packaged with magnetic performances, in which the people are the story, not anything else. It may not sound like your average love story, but I would argue that there’s no such thing. Every love is unique. What Bones and All does is tap into the idea that love is not restrictive. It means many things for many people. Other romance movies have scenes of sexual intimacy, but in this tale of cannibalistic pleasures, feeding together is what’s intimate. That stripping of your “normal” self to reveal that vulnerable side which you wouldn’t dare show anyone you didn’t trust.
With Bones and All, Guadagnino has once again proven that he is a filmmaker with a masterful ability to give us a taste of humanity within the most frightening of horrors. This film is a heartrending journey of love, tears and horror that bit so deeply into my heart I found myself crying in my car afterwards. Not because I was sad, but because of the touching message it left me with; Love, true love, is about accepting each other for who you are. The good parts. The bad parts. Bones and all.
Don’t miss one of the most stomach-churning yet romantic movies of the year.
Bones and All arrives in theaters November 23rd from MGM.
By Matt Konopka