BONES AND ALL (2022) l Warner Bros. Canada | November 23, 2022
Starring: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance
Director: Luca Guadagnino
“Bones and All” is a story of first love between Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), 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.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Bones and All once again showcases Luca Guadagnino’s talents as a filmmaker, bolstered by solid performances from Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, but the film struggles to maintain its pacing and loses grasp on the nuanced balance of horror and coming of age romance that this story possess.
Guadagnino has one of the most varied filmographies, ranging from critical darlings like Call Me By Your Name, to the divisive remake of the horror classic Suspiria, and his latest film is a blending of previous genres he has tackled. Part coming of age romance, part horror film, Bones and All tells the story of Maren, a young woman, searching for answers about her past while trying to find her own way and place in life. The catch, Maren is a cannibal, referred to as ‘Eaters’, who meets another young cannibal, Lee, whom she embarks on a road trip across America with.
Adapted from the novel by Camille DeAngellis, Guadagnino and his screenwriter David Kajganich spend time focusing on the characters while carefully laying out the parameters of the world. The screenplay naturally lays out the rules as Maren discovers more of the world alongside Lee, detailing the differences between cannibals like Maren and Lee who have a biological desire to eat human flesh, versus others who just enjoy the taste of human flesh. Never for a second is there an exposition dump of information, instead allowing the world to be discovered through Maren’s eye which keeps a sense of intrigue to the story as the audience is slowly introduced to it bit by bit over the course of the film.
While audiences may expect something brutally gory akin to the Saw franchise while watching a film about cannibals, Guadagnino approaches the subject matter with great care that finds the balance between the disturbing and the artistic filmmaking he is best known for. Whenever cannibalism is shown, it is startling and utterly disturbing, but Guadagnino uses it sparingly, rather allowing the sounds of Maren and Lee eating human flesh and being drenched in blood after feeding to convey what has just happened. This allows the moments when Guadagnino shows our characters feeding on human flesh to be that more disturbing as we are not desensitized to it from it being overused in the film, even if being desensitized to cannibalism were possible. Plus, the moments where Guadagnino shows cannibalism is paired with an emotional high for Maren’s individual character arc, causing the scenes to hit the audience harder as you are simultaneously disturbed by what you are watching on screen while being dealt a big emotional blow. It allows the story to transcend the horror genre, delivering something far more sophisticated for audiences to chew on as the story progresses and long after the credits roll.
Visually speaking, it's impossible not to get lost in the film. The cinematography is stunning, capturing the natural beauty of the American countryside during Maren and Lee’s road trip. Without a doubt the most beautiful moment of the film is the hilltop sequence in the second act, where the dazzling visuals match the emotional intensity of the relationship between Maren and Lee. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s musical score is tender and haunting, capturing the coming of age of Maren and the romance between her and Lee, while at times capturing the darkness in the story. It’s another prime example of why Reznor and Ross are one of the most exciting composing teams currently working, and validating why I get excited for their musical score every time they are attached to a film.
Rounding out the craftsmanship of the film are three great performances from Russell, Chalamet and Mark Rylance. As everyone has come to expect from him, Chalamet is once again outstanding as Lee, capturing this more reserved young man while also stripping him down to his most vulnerable self when required. Rylance has always been an exceptional character actor, and he will send chills down your spine as Sully, an eater who takes a special interest in Maren. He is unnerving, but in a childish manner that makes him feel unpredictable, which will keep the audience on edge as you are not sure if he is a friend or foe to Maren for the majority of the film.
But the star of the film is Russell as Maren. Russell previously made waves starring in 2019’s Waves and led the two fun horror films in the Escape Room series, but she delivers her breakout performance as Maren. From the second she is on screen, Russell is bursting with heart as she transforms Maren from a protected, naive young girl to a woman in front of your eyes with a quiet and physical performance. While she is sparse on words, Russell captures every emotion that Maren experiences on her journey with her facial expressions and body language, while also delivering powerful dialogue with razor edge emotions in the film’s more dramatic moments. Her chemistry with Chalamet is extraordinary, creating the emotional centre of the film as you watch these two young individuals find love and the person whom they can start their life with despite the struggles they have faced. Watch out Hollywood, Russell is here and she is not going anywhere after this sensational performance.
However, the pacing of the film was so distracting that it completely took me out of the story and the wonderful filmmaking on display. The film starts and ends strong, but the middle act drags as we are treated to beautiful moments of cinematography while the story grinds to a halt. While I am all for a visually gorgeous film, the middle act could have been trimmed to keep the story moving and the audience engaged, as it was clear I was not the only member of the audience struggling. The screenplay fumbles the balance between the two stories at play that initially hooks you into the film, losing its grasp on the horror element that separated this film from every other coming of age romance.
There is no denying that there is top notch talent on display at all moments throughout the film, but when a film’s story loses me that badly so quickly, it prevents it from being a great movie in my opinion. Taylor Russell soars opposite Timothée Chalamet, and while Luca Guadagnino directs a technically marvelous film, the pacing unfortunately stumbles and prevents Bones and All from reaching its true potential.
RATING: 3 out of 5