Zombies had a good run. Vampires had their day in the sun. Now it seems it’s the turn of the cannibals to bite the apple.
Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All gives them that and more, casting Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet as two young cannibals in a 1980s road movie that’s more tender and lyrical than most conventional romance novels. You know, the ones without all that meat eating.
Guadagnino, the Italian director, is one of our most sensual filmmakers. He makes parties just like he makes films. It is therefore both heartfelt recommendation and warning to say that he brings as much passion and zeal to the life of the cannibals of Bones and All as he does to the searing eroticism of I Am Love and the lustful awakening of Call me by your name.” If you’ve seen what Guadagnino can do with a peach, you should no doubt be interested in what he could do with a forearm.
But while there’s certainly blood in Bones and All, there’s also beguiling poetry. Guadagnino’s darkly dreamy film, which opens in select theaters on Friday, has some of the spirit of iconic love-on-the-run movies like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night. . – Films that, as odysseys on the open road, also serve as portraits of America. Like the couples in these films, Maren (Russell) and Lee (Chalamet) are technically lawbreakers as cannibals. But their relationship to society is different. They don’t fight it. They are not misfits of choice
And although Bones and All, adapted by Guadagnino and David Kajganich from the novel by Camilla DeAngelis, is about their relationship, it’s all the more striking as Maren comes of age. Particularly in its vivid, unforgettable early scenes, Bones and All digs into her dawning awareness of her longings – who she is, how she got there, what it will cost her to be herself. There are undoubtedly strong metaphors here for growing up queer. But the film is not a neatly drawn parable. There is something elemental about alienation and self-acceptance in Maren’s self-discovery—and how devouring another can save you from devouring yourself.
“Bones and All” can be both brutal and beautiful. You feel like you are watching a film that reminds you of countless others in form and style. But well, cannibalism only has one way of throwing things off balance. The result is something that feels both archetypal and otherworldly. In the opening scenes, when Maren sneaks out of bed to visit friends who are staying the night, it’s an extremely familiar situation – until Maren’s longing kiss on another girl’s finger turns into a gnashing bite.
Chaos ensues, Maren flees and when she gets home, her father’s quick reaction makes it clear that this isn’t the first time they’ve plunged into uprooting. Her father, Frank, is played by André Holland, an actor with such a soulful presence that I’m still confused as to why he doesn’t star in everything. They travel from Virginia to Maryland, where Maren wakes up one morning to find that he has disappeared. On the table is an envelope with some cash, her birth certificate, and a tape recording of Frank narrating her first meal (a babysitter). Maren is 18. She never knew her mother. And the feeling of abandonment is pervasive. In search of her mother, she buys a bus ticket and sets off for Ohio.
Power lines and nuclear power plants appear early on in Bones and All. On TV and radio we get snippets of Rudy Giuliani and Ronald Reagan. I think these are reminders of the power dynamics of the 1980s for those who lived outside of a narrow, heterosexual spectrum.
During a stopover at night, Maren finds out that there are others like her. A mysterious man (Mark Rylance) under a streetlight introduces himself as Sully and explains that he could smell her blocks away. “You can smell a lot of things if you know how,” says Sully. With a drawl, a feather in his hat, and gothic flair, Rylance plays one of the scarier movie characters of recent years. He leads her back to a nearby house and explains to her how to be an eater. “Whatever you and I have, it needs to be fed,” he says. Soon he’s in his underwear, bending over a body whose face is smeared with blood.
Maren meets Lee at a grocery store in Indiana. Chalamet, reunited with Guadagnino, is back in good form. With a mullet, fedora and unbuttoned shirt, his charismatic cannibal James Dean appears to be channeling. He definitely catches the eye of Maren, who eagerly joins him in a stolen pickup truck. Approaching Lee introduces an additional layer of danger. Will he kiss her or swallow her?
His strained family history joins other struggles of young adulthood. “Bones and All” can be a little rambling, but Lee and Maren’s shared camaraderie is as sweet as it is bound to be tragic. In a cruel world filled with terrifying characters who are more predatory than themselves – Michael Stulhbarg and David Gordon Green play two particularly creepy hillbillies – they try to forge a love. The film is mostly in the eyes of Maren. It’s a brilliant breakthrough for Russell, who made a stunning impact with 2019’s “Waves.” Your Maren is such a sensitive, inquisitive creature – hungry less for meat than for affection, acceptance and a home
You may recall that Stulhbarg played a key role as the father in “Call Me By Your Name.” His role here couldn’t be more different. But his words from that earlier film say a lot about Bones and All. Both films wrestle with what we inherit from our parents and what we sacrifice for the sake of conformity. “Our hearts and bodies are only given to us once,” he said on Call Me By Your Name. “Bones and All” also longs for a free full-body existence.
Bones and All, an MGM release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for strong, gory and disturbing violent content, consistent language, some sexual content, and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 121 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP