Bones and All, the new film by director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name), wastes no time in establishing itself. Young Maren (Taylor Russell), at a sleepover, suddenly attacks her host, nearly biting off her finger, and escaping in the night. Maren feels a compulsion to consume human flesh. Whether this is a physical or mental need Maren has is given to the audience to decide, but for Maren’s father Frank (Andre Holland) this is the final straw.
He abandons Maren, giving her only some cash, her birth certificate, and an audiotape explaining that Maren has had this compulsion ever since she was an infant. With little options, Maren hits the road, trying desperately to understand what is happening to her. Her journey will take her across the country, during the tumultuous 1980s, and into the heart of young Lee (Timothée Chalamet), another drifter with the same needs as Maren.
Bones and All is many things at once, and in equal measure – it’s a coming-of-age story, a deeply emotional romance, and a gruesome, terrifying horror tale. That Guadagnino can expertly balance all of this and make all of it feel as emotionally genuine as it does is credit to his formidable skills as a filmmaker.
Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All takes us on Maren’s journey, as she seeks out her birth mother and tries to understand what is happening to her. She is lost, confused, and filled with an insatiable hunger, and Taylor Russell quickly becomes our surrogate, even as she is forced to do horrible things. As Maren quickly learns, she is not alone.
There are other “eaters” out there, with agendas of their own, and Maren tries to cling to her humanity when so many others seem to gleefully lose theirs. As Sully (Mark Rylance), an older eater Maren encounters in her travels, explains it to Maren, it’s either eat or die – it’s not a moral choice so much as it’s a choice for survival. The further she goes without eating, Sully explains, the more she will hunger, and the more dangerous the world becomes for her.
The worldbuilding of Bones and All is done very gracefully and expansively. Guadagnino fills this world with interesting characters. These “eaters” are everywhere, and they can smell each other out, but they are solitary creatures by design and most of them steer clear of each other. Mark Rylance’s Sully seems at first to be a helpful guide to Maren, but Rylance gives Sully a quiet dread and an uneasiness that is genuinely creepy and frightening.
Then there are travelers like Jake (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Brad (David Gordon Green), who seem to relish their hungers. When Maren meets Lee, a young man wracked with guilt about the monster that he has become, they find a kindred spirit and a love that feels real and an anchor to a world of chaos and horror.
This is my favorite performance of Timothée Chalamet, who fills Lee with a need to be normal but an awareness that he never will be. He’s on the road, but he still has family, and even though he knows he’s a monster he’s still compelled to keep up with the people he cares about, hoping that his hunger doesn’t overwhelm him. He carries incredible guilt about what he is, and there’s a subtlety to Chalamet’s work here that fills Lee with complexity and sorrow.
It’s easy to see how Maren and Lee fall in love, and Russell and Chalamet have a warm chemistry together. This is a movie about the desperation of youth, and living in a world on borrowed time, and acceptance of the monster in all of us, and Russell and Chalamet give all those scenes an emotional weight that is difficult to shake. They are both fantastic in this film, and when I see this one again (and I will), it will be their relationship that sticks with me the most.
What’s great about Bones and All is that it does not romanticize the hunger of these “eaters.” This is an incredibly gory movie, and the gruesome effects work by Mike Smithson and Hiro Yada is top notch – you won’t believe how both beautiful and horrifying their work is here. It’s direct and effective, and there were a lot of uneasy noises in our Fantastic Fest audience, which is surprising considering many of the movies this audience has sat through.
It’s interesting – I think Luca Guadagnino, with Suspiria and Bones and All, may be recognized more for a movie like Call Me by Your Name, but he’s as an effective horror director as we’ve seen in quite some time, and I hope he stays in the genre for many more years to come. He’s very good at it.
I haven’t even mentioned the incredible score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, full of sweeping emotion and intricate, delicate longing, or the amazing supporting cast – not just the astonishing work by Rylance, but by everyone, including Stuhlbarg, Chloe Sevigny, or Jessica Harper.
The striking cinematography, of a backroads country unaware that predators quietly walk amongst them. The wonderful use of music by bands like Kiss, Joy Division, and New Order. As time passes, people will come to this film and hold it close to their hearts.
I imagine the horror film fan community will embrace this movie. Bones and All is my favorite film so far at this year’s Fantastic Fest, and I will be living inside this movie for a long time to come. This is a horror classic for the ages.
BONES AND ALL REVIEW SCORE: 10 OUT OF 10
United Artists Releasing will release the film in theaters on November 23, 2022. The movie is rated R for strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He has been a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer,” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.