Review: ‘Bones and All’: Unequivocally romantic, unconventionally cannibalistic

Luca Guadagnino’s latest release, “Bones and All,” starring Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, is a deft fusion of the romance and horror genres. The film was released in select theaters in New York City on Nov. 18.

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Vedang Lambe

Bones and All,” the latest film by Luca Guadagnino, stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet. The film is showing in selected theaters across New York City. (Illustration by Vedang Lambe)

Stephanie Wong, Film & TV Editor

Spoiler warning: The following article contains spoilers for “Bones and All.”

Luca Guadagnino’s latest feature film, “Bones and All,” is a visceral, alchemic fusion of romance and horror. From the opening scene, Guadagnino’s film is prolific with gore. 

The film’s opening appears similar to that of a typical high school coming-of-age film. We are introduced to Maren (Taylor Russell) — a quiet, restrained girl with a strict father, who is a newcomer to a large public high school in Virginia. One day at school, a new friend persuades her to sneak out to a sleepover with a few other girls. Despite her father’s routine of locking her in her bedroom after dinner, she successfully makes it to the sleepover.

Her new classmates seem to be warming up to her. There are promising prospects of friendship, even the implication of a potential sapphic connection. She lies on the floor, giggling with the host, whose ring finger is being painted a new shade of nail polish: “copper fever.” She laments about the color being too orange, lifting the finger closer for Maren to take a look. Maren leans forward, places the finger gently in her mouth, and bites it off. 

“Bones and All” is evidently not for everyone; several early screenings of the film have reported walk-outs by viewers who could not stomach its graphic content. Those who can bear its gory imagery, however, will likely find themselves mulling the following question: How can a film so gruesome and horrific be, simultaneously, delicate and undoubtedly romantic?

“Bones and All” follows Maren and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) — two cannibalistic lovers — as they travel through America in the ’80s on a journey of self-discovery. Maren, recently abandoned by her father after her 18th birthday, meets a young drifter, Lee, and the two spark a bewildering and beautiful relationship. They live in a reality where cannibals lurk throughout the country, identifying each other by smell, living on the borders of society where they hunt people to satiate their hunger for human flesh.

It is impossible to sit through Guadagnino’s film without wondering what metaphor he intended cannibalism to represent. It’s presented as a heritable condition and a brutal curse that condemns its subject to perpetual estrangement, leading some to compare it to issues like generational trauma and abuse. Maren is constantly fighting an internal battle with her voracious desires while simultaneously grappling with a desperate yearning for connection. She initially seeks this connection in her mother, who has been mysteriously absent for her whole life, but ultimately finds this solace with Lee.

Maren and Lee share an unconventional romance, to say the least. Isolated from the rest of society, the two engulf one another in a vortex of stifling self-disgust and hatred. Their relationship is curiously profound and touching, with many drawing comparisons to similar outlaw romances such as the ones seen in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Badlands.” 

Russell delivers a stunning performance as Maren, imbuing the character with a sympathetic candor and vulnerability. Chalamet similarly brings a natural charisma to Lee, putting an unsettlingly charming spin on a cannibal. Together, the two actors portray a tender relationship that acts as the film’s emotional anchor.

Another notable performance comes from the unnerving and profoundly disturbing Sully (Mark Rylance), the primary antagonist. When we are first introduced to him, he slowly emerges from the shadows, and his appearance consistently elicits intense discomfort and anxiety. Whenever he is on screen, the audience is torn between wanting to chuckle at his Southern drawl and odd mannerisms and contemplating with horror his lifeless expression and unsettling unpredictability.

Sully’s terrifying presence lurks on the periphery for most of the film, culminating in a grotesque and thrilling finale. The final scenes of “Bones and All” cement the film as what it was always going to be: A tragic, devastating story of two lovers doomed by their innate, uncontrollable urges. 

It’s safe to say that “Bones and All” is not for the faint of heart. Guadagnino’s newest film about macabre cravings and an equally insatiable need to be loved is one of the most memorable releases of the year.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected]