Bones and All

Review by Eve Smith

I’m in a constant state of fear when I eat alone. It’s not the fact of being solitary, but there’s something desperately vulnerable about being walked in on in such a primal state. All pretence goes out the window; you have no choice but to eat. 

We’re introduced to the world of Bones and All (2022, Luca Guadagnino) with the tired framework of an overprotective father (André Holland) and out-of-the-picture mother (Chloë Sevigny). In a new school and wanting to make friends, sleepy Maren (Taylor Russell) sneaks out to a sleepover. Then she bites one of her friend’s fingers off. 

From there we’re in Indie coming-of-age free fall. This is because Maren was born with the semi-vampiric, fully-genetic, uncontrollable urge to kill and eat the people she feels connected to. This leads her to wandering hopelessly across middle-America and reckoning with the moral and social consequences of her affliction. She learns how to sniff out other people like her, and comes to hang around with seemingly effortlessly-cool love interest Lee (Timothee Chalamet).

An uncomfortable intimacy plagues the film. We catch a glimpse through the door frame of creepy Sully, in a skin-crawling performance by Mark Rylance, hunched on all fours in his tighty-whities, feeding on a dying woman, and we want to look away. Not because we’re squeamish, but because we’re embarrassed. Guadagnino disturbs the vulnerability lying just under the surface of our basest desires and toys powerfully with the hot potato of consent.

The film builds an electric tension that quietly unsettles. A breakfast scene with the kind of reverb a Rice Krispies ad would be proud of, immediately follows one where the feeders crunch down on flesh. The setup of a roster of cannibals feels like a one-way ticket to falling headlong into the depraved cinematic iceberg. But somehow, in Bones and All’s refreshing take on whether anyone can be inherently good or bad, the film comes back to a wholesome place. Guadagnino allows these two young people, born with a horrible thing out of their control, the sympathy that they can both be doing bad and also be a victim in it all too. The film’s ‘feeders’ are given the ‘Frankenstein snowflake’ treatment where the question is raised of where responsibility lies. The story becomes less concerned with how stomach-churning the next reveal can be, than in unpacking how Maren and Lee can find a way to live with the unthinkable. 

Bones and All takes the lead of directors like Jordan Peele, who embrace the full disturbing potential of the genre, by intermeshing it with society’s existing evils. The societal underbelly of feeders touches on race, gender and sexuality without becoming glib. Everyone who has the desire to ‘feed’ is white, except mixed-race Maren. In one of the most chilling scenes, Maren and Lee sit around a fire with two crass older feeders and one of them (a cop) is revealed to be killing and eating people purely for entertainment. Maren is rightfully unsettled. But does the motivation behind a bad act make it any worse if the outcome is ultimately the same? It’s this that our protagonist has to come to terms with. Meeting others like her for the first time means finally getting to fully see herself. And, spoiler alert, it isn’t pretty. 
Ultimately, Bones and All is a road trip movie about finding your place in a fucked-up world. It beautifully crystallises around the parallel reality that falling in love also means allowing your own shortcomings to be seen, as much as it means picking these ‘icks’ out in others. Its gore toes the line between being both engaging, and gratuitous, but in the end, it emotionally enriches a story that’s fundamentally about letting yourself vulnerable. Guadagnino fleshes out what it means to see, and be seen warts, and bones, and all.

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