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REVIEW: 'Bones and All' is a cannibal love story with a whole lot of heart

By Angel Martinez Published Nov 21, 2022 11:54 am

Light spoilers for Bones and All.

For those who missed the memo, or skipped and scrolled past the official trailer, Bones and All is the love story of two cannibals.

I can guarantee I’ve already lost some of you there, and with good reason. There is blood, and lots of it: not even the kind that is so obviously a prop, with the consistency and viscosity of strawberry jam. Skin pulls apart and clings to the mouth in a hyperrealistic fashion and in some parts, internal organs are being fished out of the body. Director Luca Guadagnino doesn’t bother warning us: one of the first few scenes involves our protagonist admiring her friend’s newly nail polished finger, holding it up to the light before ripping it apart in one swift and gruesome motion.

In this adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ award-winning novel, 18-year-old Maren (played by the captivating Taylor Russell) was born with an irrepressible desire for flesh and bone: something her father (André Holland) can no longer deal with or cover up. One day, he packs up and moves away, leaving behind a modest sum of money, a copy of her birth certificate, and a cassette tape where he explains everything he knows. This newfound independence sparks Maren’s desire to demystify her personal history and track down eaters just like her, including her mother.

Sully (Mark Rylance) is the first she meets: a well-meaning mentor with a menacing presence. The conversation they share about the true nature of their insatiable appetite, as well as the dead woman they feast on afterwards, are easily some of the most terrifying sequences I’ve ever seen. I still see him standing on the curb as Maren escapes from him on a city bus when I close my eyes: that alone might make it hard to attract less daring, mainstream audiences.

Despite this, automatically striking this off one’s watchlist just seems like a huge injustice, a missed opportunity; leave it to Timothée Chalamet to prove why. Here, the undisputed internet boyfriend sets his endearingly awkward persona aside to breathe life to Lee, a lanky and lonesome drifter running away from his past at the same speed Maren is running towards hers.

The two instinctively take the role of literal and figurative partners-in-crime, embarking on a cross-country adventure that oscillates between episodes of feeding and grappling with their feelings. Together, they encounter predators, prey, and even Maren’s estranged mother (Chloë Sevigny) who only appears in a single scene but is sure to scar those who don’t cover their eyes in time.

Along the way, it’s never determined why both of them crave human flesh as voraciously as they do and why the desire only seems to intensify with age, further derailing their process of self-acceptance and discovery. And though there is no defending their lifestyle, Russell and Chalamet imbue their characters with enough sensitivity and woundedness to make us root for them. In shots where it’s just the leads cruising in a stolen truck, the film has the components of a regular 80s coming-of-age adventure: picturesque landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan, a haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and deeply affecting dialogue lifted from David Kajganich’s screenplay.

In one particularly tender moment, Lee and Maren touch foreheads in the middle of a grassy field and bare as much of themselves as they can allow. “Do you think I’m a bad person?” he asks, his breath shaking, his cheeks stained with tears. “All I know is that I love you,” she replies, enough to affirm what she feels for him but not to justify what they do. How can a plot so grotesque on the surface also pack so much heart?

This unexpectedly exquisite blend of romance and horror may be an acquired taste but it’s one that will linger with audiences long after they’ve eaten it up.

It turns out that cannibalism was simply the macabre metaphor of choice and can be a stand-in for anything we try to escape. As Russell says in an interview for Slant Magazine, the act is “a physical embodiment of an emotional undercurrent”: think of how we currently attempt to escape trauma, abuse, or the loneliness that marks our day-to-day existence.

These circumstances have imprinted themselves on us, to the point where they’re often beyond our control. We know it’s impossible to run away from what we’ve become, but also that it suddenly seems plausible when the right person shows us the way: someone who understands exactly where we’re coming from, who can provide us with the semblance of normalcy we’ve been craving. It’s this same fantasy that deludes us into thinking a happy ending lies ahead for the couple.

Needless to say, those who are brave enough to give this film a try are bound to leave the cinema with heightened emotions on opposite ends of the spectrum and maybe even phobias that didn’t exist prior to viewing.

This unexpectedly exquisite blend of romance and horror may be an acquired taste but it’s one that will linger with audiences long after they’ve eaten it up.

Bones and All will screen in Philippine cinemas starting Nov. 23, 2022.