Bones and All - New Release Review
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell, Mark Rylance, Kendle Coffey, André Holland
Written by: David Kajganich
Produced by: Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Lorenzo Mieli, Francesco Melzi d'Eril, Marco Morabito, Gabriele Moratti, Theresa Park, Peter Spears
Cinematography by: Arseni Khachaturan
Original Score by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Maren, a young woman, learns how to survive on the margins of society.
In horror cinema the taboo topic of cannibalism has pushed the boundaries of the genre and to this day manages to be one of the most uncomfortable topics within it. It holds an incredible power to elicit feelings of discomfort and revulsion particularly in the wake of the explosion of Italian filmmakers cashing in on the notoriety of 'Cannibal Holocaust' in the 80's but more recently through films like 'Raw' and to a lesser extent 'Fresh' there seems to be a more thought provoking and artful approach to the topic which leads us to Luca Guadagnino's 'Bones and All'.
Based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis 'Bones and All' follows a young woman called Maren (played by Taylor Russell) who embarks on a road trip across America in the 1980s to find her mother so she can learn more about herself but there is one big problem, she is a cannibal who can't control her urges to eat human flesh. After a slumber party gone bad her father (played by André Holland) abandons her and after years of trying to control her unnatural instincts she sets her journey of discovery in motion.
Taking an episodic approach charting Maren's journey on the road, the film feels like Stephen King's take on 'Badlands' in that it focuses more on character than the hook. It is all too prevalent whenever Maren first encounters Lee (played by Timothée Chalamet) who has the same condition as her. The pair strike an immediate bond as a pair of outcasts from similar socioeconomic backgrounds trying to cope with their conditions in different ways. Along the way they meet many eclectic characters who offer them an insight of what could lie ahead of them should they go on the wrong path. These supporting characters allow Guadagnino to shroud the entire film in a blanket of dread but the light that penetrates this darkness is the relationship between Maren and Lee which is what the audience clings to.
In their roles as Maren and Lee, Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet exhibit a great deal of natural chemistry that shines through their loving looks into each other's eyes which emanates an "us against the world" attitude. At its core the film is a coming of age story for Maren and Russell encapsulates the confusion and compulsions that comes with not only her character's predicament but her growth as an adult which roots her performance in a great deal of empathy. Whilst Chalamet's performance carries similar traits the rebellious streak in his character shines through thanks to his natural screen presence but there is also a degree of vulnerability and guilt inherent to it which holds your attention throughtout.
One of the characters Maren encounters on her journey is an eccentric old man called Sully (played by Mark Rylance) who shares the same condition as them. Acting like a warning sign to what a lonely life with this burden can lead to, his meek manner carries a sinister edge thanks to Rylance's incredible performance. Stealing every scene he appears in he comes across as unpredictable and threatening in the way he speaks in the third person but the most masterful aspect of his performance is how he manages to exude pathos in every scene. The rest of the supporting cast featuring the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Harper and Chloë Sevigny leave a lasting impression in their small but impactful roles.
Whilst much has been made of the scenes of brutal violence and gore, the thing that remains after those moments are how the film is ultimately an exploration of loneliness, guilt and coming to terms with your place in the world. The stripped back score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (which evokes Ry Cooder's work in Paris, Texas) goes a long way to underpin this. The way through which Guadagnino explores this through the lens of working class middle America is a masterstroke. The easy option would be to go for an "eat the rich" message but it is more about self cannibalisation in your own groups as a means of survival. The rustic vistas on display through their journey and the tactile nature of the film only enhance these themes with the slow burn approach allowing them to truly sink in.
This may prove to be too indulgent for some but they worked perfectly for me. Having said that whenever the elements of horror come into play they pack a visceral punch with the sequence proving to be both shocking and heartbreaking in equal measure as Meren confronts where she came from and where she is going.
Some may find 'Bones and All' to be too full on or strange for their taste but those willing to give it a chance allowing Maren and Lee's journey to wash over them will be rewarded with a fine piece of horror drama that exceeds Guadagnino's previous work in the genre. An unusual addition to the American road movie that sounds preposterous on paper, it is a beautiful experience that will linger in your head and heart days after watching it.
- Joseph McElroy