From the very moment I saw the trailers, I wanted to see this film. Not only was the concept fascinating, but I loved that the romantic element entwined with the horror aspects. I also was interested in Taylor Russell, in particular, having seen her work in Lost in Space as Judy Robinson. Of course, I was familiar with Timothée Chalamet from Dune and hoped the dynamic between the two would resonate. I also look forward to anything Mark Rylance is in. Between the three stars, I was not disappointed. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet have beautiful chemistry, Mark Rylance is excellent, and the story is a complex exploration of identity, pain, and love.
The film Bones And All is a romantic horror film directed by Luca Guadagnino from a screenplay by David Kajganich based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis. In the film, young Maren (Taylor Russell) yearns for the same things most girls wish for, but she has a secret: she eats people. When her father (Andre Holland) finally abandons her, leaving only a cassette tape behind, Maren goes on a search for her missing mother. She also wants to discover who and what she is. As she explores, she finds answers with Sully, an older man (Mark Rylance), but she doesn’t trust him. Soon after, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who quickly realizes they are alike. The pair go on the run together, exploring their instincts and who each other is. But will their desire for flesh bring them together or drive them apart?
One of the most riveting aspects of this film is the use of cannibalism as a metaphor for pain and love. It also brings up questions about identity, something most teens and young adults struggle with. Even though outwardly the story is about two teenage cannibals on the run, within the film, the pair struggle with many of the same issues others of their age do, secret shame, sex, identity, and love. The film does a wonderful job of showing the pair struggling with their identities both separately and together and discovering how to cope with their differences both with each other but also with the rest of the world.
While the relationship aspects are excellent, so too are the horror elements. Sully (Mark Rylance) especially illustrates subtle creepy moments, such as keeping a rope of hair to remember all his victims. His behavior highlights the difference between the eaters and the humans. When Lee and Maren encounter another pair of men on the road who also like them, the true horror is that one of the men is human. He’s not forced by a biological need to kill but still does so, all the same. The horror of that lingers. And we see it yet again in Maren’s mother when she discovers her location. Played by Chloë Sevigny, Janelle has chosen to lock herself up to prevent herself from eating. And the insanity that causes is another layer of fear. The writing does a great job of expanding and using the theme of pain and love to develop fear and horror in the narrative.
One of the tools that the director and the film use is the cassette tape that Maren receives from her father. The tape resonates, allowing the film to expand the backstory of Maren and her family. It helps tell us that Maren cannot completely contain her hunger, even as she tries. While with Lee, she and he indulge in their desires, and you also see Maren struggle with her hunger. The tape highlights Maren’s desire also to be normal, to have a life where she does not need to feed. The tape builds her story and allows us to see her journey, both with Lee and apart, to find her own identity and discover who she wants to be.
Taylor Russell is magnetic as Maren. You immediately feel connected to her through her pain and her struggle. The story helps develop and tell us about her past, but it is the actress who brings the character to life, allowing us to see her journey for identity, her love and pain, missing her father, and also being driven to find out about her mother. The chemistry between her and Timothée Chalamet is intense but also authentic and caring. Timothée Chalamet is believable as Lee, a young man on the road, someone struggling with his own secrets, his own pain, and his own family issues, including a sister he loves. The way the pair connect and the dynamic between the actors helps the film be far more believable. Mark Rylance is amazing as Sully; creepy, haunting, and scary because it’s impossible to predict what the character will do. It is one of Mark Rylance’s finest performances.
If there is any aspect I’m not happy with, it is that the story can be slow. It is not a traditional horror, either. While the pair, Maren and Lee, travel across the country, that does slow down the story, and the horror elements are spread out over time. If you’re looking for jump scares, this is not that story. It is a dark, beautiful story, but the horror is in the pain that both teenagers experience and the struggle for identity, in the cannibalism being used in place of more known monsters. While the film is slow, it is critical to develop the themes and the characters, to experience Maren and Lee’s relationship fully. The conclusion is haunting and well worth the wait.
If you like haunting, ghoulish love stories, this one is for you. The relationship between Maren and Lee is beautiful and full of pain and love. The film has intense themes, exploring through the medium of cannibalism, identity, pain, and love. It is a unique and unusual story, with complex characters, fascinating concepts, and amazing acting from Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Andre Holland, and Chloë Sevigny. I loved the acting and the story.
Rating: 4.5 fingers out of 5
Bones and All
A story of first love between Maren, a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee, an intense and disenfranchised drifter, as they meet and join together for a thousand-mile odyssey which takes them through the back roads, hidden passages and trap doors of Ronald Reagan’s America. But despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and to a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their otherness.
BONES AND ALL comes out in theaters on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.
ONE-LINER: Maren, a young woman, learns how to survive on the margins of society.