Review: 'Bones and All' Offers Much to Chew On

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 23, 2022

Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell in "Bones and All"
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell in "Bones and All"  

Monsters in horror can often be read as a queer allegory, particularly in their role as outcasts. Cannibalism in horror and science fiction often involves allegories of consumption: Vegetarianism in Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," capitalism and class in "Soylent Green" and Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer," colonialism in Antonia Bird's "Ravenous," and female sexuality in Julia Ducournau's "Raw."

"Bones and All" uses cannibalism in a riveting, poignant road-trip coming-of-age romance horror film to explore desire, ostracism, and self-acceptance.

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet star in director Luca Guadagnino's adaptation of the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis (a vegan who wrote about cannibals) with a screenplay by David Kajganich. Premiering at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, it won the Silver Lion for Best Direction and Russell won the Marcello Mastroianni Award.

Maren (Taylor Russell) is a teenager who's new in town. Her father (André Holland, excellent in "Moonlight" and "The Knick") locks her bedroom door and windows, which she unscrews to sneak out to visit friends. If you didn't know the premise, this scene begs the question: Is he merely strict, or is something sinister going on?

At a sleepover, when a girl shows Maren her painted nail, Maren sensuously takes the finger in her mouth... then bites it off. Running home scared, she and her father flee, not for the first time.

Maren has cannibalistic urges; her father recounts finding her with a dead babysitter as a toddler. Waking up abandoned by her father, Maren decides to try to find her estranged mother, who left many years earlier.

Through her travels, Maren meets other cannibals — or "eaters" — like herself. She's surprised, as she thought she was the only one. Creepy Sully (Mark Rylance) stalks Maren, imparts his cannibal knowledge, and disturbingly keeps hair from people he's eaten. Meeting in a grocery store — both defending a woman and her baby from a rude patron — Maren and self-assured Lee (Timothée Chalamet) embark on a road trip together.

Taylor Russell (excellent here, as well as in Trey Edward Shults's "Waves") imbues Maren with a delicate fragility fused with intensity. Brimming with independence and compassion, she yearns for love and connection, yet she's haunted by guilt and shame over killing and the urge to eat people.

Throughout the film, we see bibliophile Maren read novels — one by J.R.R. Tolkien, James Joyce's "Dubliners," and Jean M. Auel's "The Clan of the Cave Bear" — alluding to epic quests and journeys of self-discovery, particularly the latter, which also features an outcast female protagonist.

Timothée Chalamet (great in "Dune" and Greta Gerwig's "Little Women") exudes a cavalier confidence and nonchalance. Yet, beneath his self-reliant, tough exterior, he cares deeply about his family.

Maren and Lee's relationship unfolds slowly. Initially companions due to cannibalism, they challenge each other spurring introspection, and their relationship eventually deepens. They share moments of normalcy: Eating food at a diner, sharing a Ferris wheel kiss (symbolizing carefree young love).

Guadagnino reunites with both Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg (in a supporting role) — who all worked together on queer romance "Call Me by Your Name" — as well as screenwriter Kajganich, with whom he has collaborated on three films, including the 2018 horror film "Suspiria."

While not a queer film like "Call Me by Your Name," "Bones and All" involves queer themes. Lee flirts with a male carnival worker (Jake Horowitz). At first, Lee seems to enact a black-widow scheme, using sexuality to lure the carnival worker to his death so that he and Maren can feast on him. Rather than merely entice him, Lee and the carnival worker kiss and then have sex. The juxtaposition of queerness and violence remains disturbing, yet this scene intriguingly reveals Lee's queerness or sexual fluidity.

Guadagnino possesses a superb talent for capturing evocative atmosphere. When Maren and Sully eat the flesh of a dead woman, we hear the sounds of eating via eerie sound design, but the visuals we see are photographs of the dead woman's life. The cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan evokes a gritty aesthetic. The excellent moody score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross contains a slow guitar melody; a discordant score emerges during scenes of intensity and foreboding.

"Bones and All" deals with trauma, including abandonment and violence; how trauma impacts self-image, relationships, and navigating the world. What makes someone a monster? If society perceives someone as a monster, do they deserve love?

While not explicitly addressing race, a biracial Black protagonist adds that dimension, potentially speaking to respectability politics, conformity, and assimilation, as Maren desperately yearns to be like everyone else.

Featuring wonderful performances and a moody atmosphere, "Bones and All" digs into the marrow of humanity with searing melancholy and poignancy. Self-acceptance lies at the heart of the film — to embrace and love every part of yourself, even the parts messy and dangerous.

"Bones and All" opens in theaters on Friday, November 18, 2022.