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{BFI London Film Festival} Bones and All

Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet (right) as Lee in BONES AND ALL, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A chilling film with an intoxicating aftertaste, Bones and All serves a tender romance with a generous helping of brutal cannibal gore.

Love and flesh-eating may not be a traditional flavor pairing, but you’ll be left wanting more of Luca Guadagnino’s latest work, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis.

Before being a cannibal teenage love story, Bones and All — premiered at Venice and now playing at London Film Festival — is protagonist Maren’s (Taylor Russell) coming-of-age story. Like most of such narratives, it implies an exploration and a growing up process that’s painful and exciting all at once. Consuming, even, as Maren will learn the hard way in a Raegan-era America that may not have a place for outsiders like her.

Russell delivers a gripping performance as a fragile, conflicted teenager who isolates herself due to her problematic appetites. Once her father leaves her behind, Maren embarks on a quest to find her birth mother, from whom she may have inherited such a peculiar hunger. 

Along the way, she finds more than she bargained for when she meets Timothée Chalamet’s Lee, who has similar tastes and an opposite demeanor. At first uninterested in Maren’s friendly attempts to get to know him, a cocky, guarded Lee gradually warms up to her. Traveling together, they encounter other Eaters on a road trip that’s a celebration of American culture in its most picturesque form.

Bones and All shows the gruesome side to Americana love

Their journey unfolds as a zany Americana tribute made of diner stops, Neo-romantic outfits, nostalgic needle drops, and stunning landscapes. But it’s America through the eyes of Guadagnino we’re talking about here. It’s a romanticized, almost suspended version of it that’s reminiscent of the quaint England of The End of the F**king World‘, whose protagonists may be modern counterparts of Maren and Lee (minus the cannibal bit, of course). 

In a way, the locations and production design of Bones and All are a nod to the 1980s aesthetics that contributed to making Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name a hit. But Maren and Lee will charm even those who weren’t sold on the unbalanced, at times toxic romance between Elio and Oliver.

Cannibal coming-of-age is usually a solitaire affair, with the protagonists developing an unusual appetite that could end up jeopardizing their relationships. It’s rare to see cannibalism and romance go hand in hand this seamlessly. The script penned by Guadagnino’s collaborator David Kajganich succeeds in mastering such balance, holding several glimpses of truth that are beautifully brought to life by Russell and Chalamet. The two actors’ chemistry has an almost a visceral element to it, becoming apparent under Guadagnino’s intimate direction.

Alongside these strong central performances, Bones and All stars some other actors at the top of their game. Mark Rylance steals the show as Sully, an eccentric Eater with ambiguous motives. Michael Stuhlbarg is unrecognizable as an Eater Maren and Lee encounter on the road, while Chloë Sevigny shocks in a disturbing cameo.

Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet (right) as Lee in BONES AND ALL, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Finding love (and gore) in a hopeless place

Sweet moments may be integral to the film, but Bones and All doesn’t shy away from including many gruesome scenes. Early on, Maren can’t resist the urge to devour a friend’s finger, with the camera lingering on such graphic details as a warning not to watch this on a full stomach. 

Comparisons with Julia Ducournau’s Raw are inevitable, though the two films are profoundly different. For the French filmmaker, getting a taste of human flesh is a metaphor for one’s sexual awakening in a repressive environment, with protagonist Justine grappling with self-inflicted guilt. Bones and All sees cannibalism as an addiction, a genetic malady afflicting the protagonists, who struggle to break the pattern and fit in a society that doesn’t let them just be. 

Lee is an arrogant, bisexual, self-proclaimed “junkie” whose casual attitude towards murder conceals some deep trauma. While Maren has a hard time establishing what ethical feeding means to her, Lee prioritizes survival. Though, even when their views don’t align, Maren and Lee are never alone in navigating whatever makes them different.

There are hints at racial and anti-queer discrimination in this story, with Maren and Lee’s cannibal wants being a proxy for those traits that sets them apart from others. Nonetheless, these are never spelled out, nor are events sped up for the audience’s benefit. Bones and All prefers to unravel its truths slowly, allowing its protagonists to mull over things at their own pace. Maren and Lee are looking for answers, and find a few in the most hopeless, unexpected of places: within themselves and in each other.

The consuming romance of Bones and All

This romantic dynamic isn’t new: Lee and Maren could be any teen couple in any teen movie. Yet, they aren’t, and their shared secret is but one of the reasons why. The bond they strike has an element of hard candor that’s impossible not to fall for. Laying their minds and souls bare, the two become so closely connected that it’s a joy to see them together. But don’t fool yourself: this is going to hurt, as the film never ceases to remind its audience, in a rather ominous fashion.

Horror prevails in this genre-bending tale, from the first few minutes to the devastating epilogue. Evil can and will sneak its way in, Guadagnino’s movie suggests. But if there’s a chance to fight it off for just a moment, we need to give our everything — bones and all — to make it happen. And savor it till the last bite.