BONES AND ALL: 3 STARS. “makes a queasy meal out of its allegory.”
Usually, it is fairly easy to pigeonhole a movie. Comedy, drama, romance, sci fi, horror, action. Those are the easy ones. It gets slightly more complicated as you branch off into hybrids like dramedy, Menippean satire, docufiction or rom com. Then, along comes a movie like “Bones and All,” a new, queasy genre buster starring Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance, and now playing in theatres.
Based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, it is something I’ve never seen before, a romcanrofi, ie: a romantic, coming-of-age cannibal road film.
When we first meet Maren (Taylor Russell), she is a seventeen-year-old high schooler, being raised by single father Frank (André Holland). She appears to be a normal teen, sneaking out to a slumber party with schoolmates and the like, but when her taste for human flesh reveals itself, Maren and her dad have to hit the road before the police turn up.
When Maren turns eighteen, her father disappears, tired of hiding her terrible secret. Leaving the teen to fend for herself, he leaves behind some money, her birth certificate and a tape recording describing her life, from her first cannibalistic incident when she was just three-years-old, to providing details about Janelle (Chloë Sevigny), the mother who abandoned Maren when she was an infant.
On a search for answers, Maren hits the road, landing in Ohio, where she meets Sully (Mark Rylance), an older cannibal who says he could smell a fellow “eater” from blocks away. Like Maren, Sully is a drifter, but he’s not looking to answer life’s questions, he’s on the hunt for food. “Life is never dully with Sully,’ he snorts.
Sully teaches her the tricks of the trade, how to pick victims and feed without attracting attention, but something about him makes Maren uncomfortable and she moves on to Indiana where she meets Lee (Chalamet), a fine young cannibal who becomes her partner in life and death.
“Bones and All” isn’t exactly a horror film. The subject matter might be horrifying and there are some stomach-churning sound effects that won’t easily be forgotten, but this is more a coming-of-age love story as Maren adapts to her ever-changing circumstances.
The blood and guts are kept to a minimum, mostly serving as a vehicle for the movie’s metaphor of cannibals as anyone who has ever felt like an outcast. Maren and Lee are the ultimate others, a compulsive couple who aren’t treated as monsters, but as two people living outside of collective norms. Come for the cannibals, stay for the languid, sensitive essay on life on the fringes of society.
Seductive and strange, director Luca Guadagnino anchors the movie with his two leads, Chalamet and Russell. Both are driven to extremes by their appetites, while, at the same time, searching for acceptance and a place to call home. Both actors bring humanity to their characters, concentrating on their personal journeys rather than the monstrous aspects of their personalities. Their performances give the eccentric story a universal feel even if it is a very specific topic.
“Bones and All” has more to do with relationship road movies like “Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Badlands” than it does “Cannibal Holocaust.” It’s a haunting tale, if a little languorous for its own good, that makes a meal out of its allegory.