Some will call Bones and All grotesque. Others will call it grotesquely romantic. The film blends tones, themes, and genres to create a meal that’s not quite like any other. The unusual ingredients make sense when you consider the cooks in the kitchen, however. Director Luca Guadagnino previously made Call Me by Your Name, the coming-of-age story about two young men concealing their blossoming love affair. Screenwriter David Kajganich also collaborated with Guadagnino on the 2018 remake of Suspiria, one of the past decade’s bloodiest and most twisted experiences.
If you told me that Bones and All was a cannibalism love story from the makers of Call Me by Your Name and Suspiria, this is precisely what I’d expect. Granted, there’s always going to be a level of unpredictability to a story like this. Knowing the talents involved, though, everything suddenly falls into place. Bones and All works as a horror story with carnage that’ll leave anybody disturbed. It also functions as a romance with the two leads sharing genuine chemistry. Do these two movies function as one consistent serving, though? If you have the appetite for it.
Taylor Russell’s Maren has an unquenchable thirst for human flesh. She lives on the road, doing her best to hold back her cravings, but it only takes one bite to send her off the wagon. For those who walk into Bones and All blind, Maren’s first helping will leave you frozen in your seat or dashing out of the theater. Abandoned by her father and unable to locate her mother, Maren hooks up with a fellow “feeder” named Lee (Timothée Chalamet). You can cover Chalamet with the blood of a man he just ate and the Chalamaniacs will still swoon.
The two travel the countryside, encountering other members of their underground community. Mark Rylance is hauntingly soft-spoken as a senior feeder named Sully. For much of the film, we’re left guessing whether Sully means well or if there’s something more menacing (well, in addition to the cannibalism) underneath. Michael Stuhlbarg, who usually plays such meek characters, demonstrates why he’s one of our most versatile character actors as a redneck cannibal who’s not necessarily cut from the same cloth as our lovers. Bones and All is a slow burn, but the onslaught of cameos and the spark between the leads help to keep the plot flowing.
My issue with Bones and All boils down to its meaning. The “feeding” could be read as an allegory for many things, from the LGBTQ+ community, to AIDs, to Judaism, to undocumented immigrants, basically any group that’s had to live under the radar to survive unforgiving environments. Does cannibalism go with this subtext, though? Is this clever commentary or problematic? Even weeks after watching the film, I’m still not sure. What I do know is that I was more invested in Maren and Lee than I ever expected to care about cannibals. It’s always admirable when a film plays with your emotions to the point that you’re not sure what to feel. Sometimes you simply have to give yourself to a movie, warts and all… or bones and all.