PLOT: A young woman falls in love with an enigmatic stranger. He is someone who shares her taste for human flesh. Together, they struggle to survive in a world that doesn’t understand them.
REVIEW: Bones and All is just your typical, flesh-eating cannibals fall-in-love type of romance. You know, the kind where a girl meets a boy, and then they eat people. Not too familiar, perhaps, but nothing filmmaker Luca Guadagnino does, is. His latest is a strange and dreamy romantic drama, yet one that slips in and out of horror in intriguing ways. Thoughtful, quirky, and unconventional, the film features excellent performances from its leads, Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet. And then there is Mark Rylance, who brings on the weird as a fellow named Sully. Let’s dig into the meat of this one, shall we?
When we meet Maren (Russell), we find she is a shy girl attempting to make friends in school. After being invited to a sleepover, she nearly bites one of the girl’s fingers off. We find that this reserved young lady has a fetish for flesh. The incident leaves her and her father (André Holland) on the run. Unfortunately for Maren, now of legal age, her peculiar habit ultimately leaves her on her own. She soon realizes that others are like her, including an awkward fellow named Sully (Rylance) and an enigmatic drifter named Lee (Chalamet). As Lee and Maren find common ground, they leave a trail of blood as she searches for her birth mother to find out why she is who she is.
Luca Guadagnino approaches the subject matter uniquely – not unusual for the director. Blood and All could have been modern-day Natural Born Killers. The unique subject matter would have fit well in a horrific gore-soaked romance. And while there are certainly moments that are unsettling and gory, Bones and All is a story of two people in an unaccepting world. The character-driven road trip embraces the back roads of America and gives insight into the underbelly of society. While we could easily judge Maren and Lee, Luca and screenwriter David Kaiganich present them as sympathetic and lost souls seeking what everyone does, love and acceptance.
Taylor Russell is a fantastic young actress; her performance here is stunning. Her take on Maren is unaffected by the dark subject matter, and her connection to Chalamet and Rylance is impressive. As shocking and horrific as her habits may be, she creates a sweet young girl who needs something or someone to protect her from the world and perhaps herself. And yes, she and Mr. Chalamet are stunning together. There is never a moment in the film where you don’t somehow believe that these two belong together. It’s a fascinating relationship, one where the two actors bring their all to the roles.
Mark Rylance, who was incredible in this year’s The Phantom of the Open and The Outfit, is outstanding as Sully. His fixation on Maren masterfully goes from creepy to touching, back to unsettling again. Sully is a man who figured out how to exist as an “eater” – one with the desire to eat human flesh. The relationship he builds with Maren is a significant part of this story, one that dips into the darkness for the final act. All three of the actors are outstanding, and you also have a few genre treats involved, with David Gordon Green appearing in a terrific sequence with Michael Stuhlbarg. And for fans of the original Suspiria, Jessica Harper brings her grace back to the big screen.
The multiplex audience I witnessed this unusual feature with was slightly confused by what they saw. And truthfully, there was a significant bit of uncomfortable laughter during a few of the more offbeat sequences. Many appeared to be Chalamet fans, and some were expecting a straight-up horror flick. Bones and All is unconventional. It asks the audience to understand and sympathize with something most will find vile or grotesque. If you can let yourself go and take in the impressive and inventive visuals and wonderful performances in a strange romantic journey, you will likely appreciate this unusually bloody romance.