Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Bones and All is a romantic drama about cannibals, it’s directed/produced by Luca Guadagnino of Call Me By Your Name infamy… and Armie Hammer is nowhere in the cast. Did anyone think to even try and call him? Because that seems like a huge missed opportunity.
We lay our scene throughout the American midwest and east coast, circa 1988. Our protagonist for tonight is Maren, played by Taylor Russell. She and her father (played by Andre Holland) move all over the country, going by different aliases and keeping a low profile to try and stay one step ahead of the law. This is because Maren is what’s called an “Eater” — she has a volatile addiction to human flesh and teeth strong enough to chomp through solid bone with minimal effort. It’s worth adding that this is likely genetic, as Maren’s mother disappeared some time ago under opaque circumstances that suggest she may have been an Eater as well.
Finally, around the time Maren turns eighteen, her father decides he’s had enough. He leaves Maren with a few hundred bucks, her birth certificate, and a tape-recorded note explaining that he’s fucked off to places unknown. What follows is a road drama in which Maren attempts to figure out who and what she really is, primarily by tracking down her deadbeat mom. Along the way, Maren discovers that Eaters can literally smell each other out through their innately heightened senses, which is how Maren meets others like her in short order.
Her romantic co-lead is Lee, played by producer Timothee Chalamet. He’s another Eater with a highly contentious relationship to his own parents, mostly over some unspeakable incident between him and his Eater father. Still, he’s on tenuous speaking terms with his mother and he’s got a little sister (Kayla, played by Anna Cobb) to keep him somewhat grounded. Even so, Lee is much more visibly comfortable driving his pickup all around the country to sate himself on unsympathetic jackasses.
The other main Eater of the cast is Sully, played by Mark Rylance. This is a guy who knows everything there is to know about living under the radar as an Eater, but he’s an old eccentric with an unpredictable temper who talks about himself in the third person. There’s definitely an impression that he’s been alone for too long, which is especially clear in how he simply can’t take a hint and leave Maren alone.
Compare that to Jake and Brad, respectively and briefly played by Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green of all people. Jake is an Eater while Brad is simply a garden variety cannibal psychopath. (Brad is also a cop, which somehow makes it even worse.) While the two of them give off strong “Deliverance” vibes, they nonetheless seem to be a lot more stable than Sully. Whether or not that makes them more dangerous is a matter of debate.
Social connection and community are strong recurring themes all throughout the film. While it’s dangerous for Eaters to group together — for obvious reasons — it’s vastly more dangerous for Eaters to socialize with normies. This on top of the fact that Eaters are naturally gifted at finding each other. The upshot is that even with the danger, they need each other to keep from going stir-crazy and potentially causing more trouble.
In truth, the Eaters are nothing but trouble. They can either eat people, kill themselves, or stay locked up somewhere until they finally die, and those are the only three options. Sully has made his peace with this by acting as a kind of scavenger, feasting on old people who were already dead or close to it anyway. Lee copes with his primal nature by doing the world a favor and culling all the assholes. And then we have poor Maren, who’s still disgusted by her own predatory nature, filled with loathing for herself and those like her who can only survive by murdering people.
For Maren — and also for Lee, to a lesser extent — this is very much a journey of self-discovery. But more than that, it’s a film about the concept of home. At its heart and core, this is a movie about two young people trying to find some status quo in which they don’t have to keep traveling and don’t have to worry about looking over their shoulder or where their next meal is coming from (if you’ll pardon the phrasing). They’re looking for some means of security and comfort. And if living openly isn’t an option, they’ll at least settle for the acceptance and understanding of someone they’re close to.
Given the nature of the subject matter, the nature of Guadagnino’s previous feature, and certain… ahem events over the course of the film, I’ve heard it suggested that the film is an LGBTQ allegory. But given the film’s setting in the late ’80s, I’d go a step further and suggest that this could be an allegory for HIV/AIDS. While there is a lot of overlap between those two subjects, it bears mentioning that our protagonists are afraid of literally killing anyone they get close to — that tracks much closer with a story about STIs. Furthermore, while cannibalism and murder are nothing like the spread of a virus (outside of a zombie story), Maren makes a huge deal about the effect that her and Lee’s actions will have on the victims’ families and loved ones and so on.
The cast does a phenomenal job with such a bonkers premise. Timothee Chalamet was born to play the aloof heartthrob burdened with pathos and angst, and he’s doing the smart thing by running that wheelhouse for as long as he can. Mark Rylance has long since proven himself talented enough that he could take pretty much any role and make it into something compelling. Stuhlbarg makes a huge impression with very little screentime, ditto for Chloe Sevigny in a showstopping third-act speaking cameo.
Much as I hate to say it, the weak link here is easily Taylor Russell. She’s certainly not bad enough to drag the film down and she plays Maren’s inner conflict admirably well, but she’s nowhere near charismatic or memorable enough to hold her own against all these heavy hitters. I’d understand if the filmmakers were trying to replicate Chalamet’s chemistry with Zendaya and she wasn’t available, but they couldn’t get Amandla Stenberg or Storm Reid?
Then we’ve got the camerawork. I’m sorry to say that we’ve got a movie in which the filmmakers shoot action sequences and chase scenes like they’re trying to shake a hornet off the handheld camera. I thought we’d left this shit behind in 2015. I’d thought even the most incompetent filmmakers out there had figured out by now that shaking the handheld camera doesn’t make things any more intense or action-packed, it only serves to obscure the action and nauseate the audience. Why are we still doing this?!
Bones and All is overlong at two hours and ten minutes. It certainly doesn’t help that by its very nature as a road movie, the pacing is languid and loaded with empty stretches. I might add that Russell’s chemistry with Chalamet is merely serviceable — it’s only passable when an awards season romantic drama opposite Timothee freaking Chalamet demands nothing short of excellence.
Even so, I can appreciate the heart and passion on display, and the film’s mix of intimate character drama with blood-soaked spectacle is certainly unique if nothing else. It’s worth a look, but you won’t be missing anything if you wait for home video.