From the start of Bones and All, based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, that eerie loneliness pours onto the screen. Arseni Khachaturan’s camera ponders basic sketches of rural landscapes in a high school, and then stares at the students from afar. Is it curious? Afraid? Introverted? The lens takes its time to find Maren (Taylor Russell), an 18-year-old girl outside the frame. She's part of the empty space, barely seen.
Maren has a rare opportunity to bond with girls during a sleepover, and relaxes into herself. But that ends in a shocking moment, worthy of Julia Ducournau’s unforgettable cannibal film Raw. Maren flees and then her dad (André Holland) flees her, knowing and fearing his daughter’s cravings for human flesh. This inspires an aimless journey through the American Midwest in the 80s. Russell delivers a fascinating performance, capturing Maren's spiralling trauma of identity yet moving forward with an iron will.
Taylor Russell as Maren. Photo: Warner Bros.
More than the obvious components of horror-movie revulsion, Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich (Suspiria) don’t drown themselves in blood. In fact, the grosser scenes (few and far between) often unfold with unnerving mundanity despite them forever feasting on your brain. Screams are scarce, and jumps are scarcer. Bones and All is a road movie first, a teen romance second and a horror film last, but all mix in perfect quantities and stand together as individual delights.
On the unpredictable road, Maren meets the strange old man Sully (a brilliantly creepy Mark Rylance) who shares her cannibalistic urges. He emerges out of the shadows, filled with wisdom like an anti-Gandalf: wearing a vivid jacket littered with butterfly badges and a black hat with a long feather attached.
Timothée Chalamet as Lee. Photo: Warner Bros.
In Indiana, Maren meets a cannibal closer to her age. Lee (the director’s wunderkind Timothée Chalamet) is a handsome young man wearing tomato-coloured highlights in his hair, with whom the central romance begins. With elegant patience, Guadagnino draws out their chemistry – allowing it to bubble, letting it breathe and become sure of itself.
Maren and Lee venture through miles of countryside, which is often tinted by magic-hour blues. The beautifully shot scenery resembles Terence Malick’s visual love for the natural world, bolstered by Edward Hopper-esque snapshots of small-town Americana. That emptiness is where they belong, where they can indulge their passions but with Dexter-like morality. Mostly, the people they encounter have the same condition, which they can supernaturally smell on each other – connecting like canines. The rest is vast and desolate.
Scenes drift into each other with little-to-no plot exposition. Objectives spring from nowhere, as if you're dropping into the middle of a dream. Maren and Lee's dreams also weave themselves into the narrative: crafted as flickering shocks, providing such authentic nightmares.
and the lack thereof inevitably enter the film’s anxiety of loneliness. As much as Maren runs from who she is, her true self will always catch up. Rejection
grows throughout the story, more painful than human teeth breaking human skin. To be rejected is to be alone, to be pushed into an even emptier space. It’s
why, despite the inhumanity that Maren and Lee inflict on others, their connection is pure and heartwarming and inevitably upsetting. You’re happy they
found each other and that they love each other, bones and all.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2022. Bones and All will be in UK cinemas on Wednesday 23 November.
|What||Bones and All review|
23 Nov 22 – 23 Nov 23, IN CINEMAS
|Website||Click here for more information|