Day 20 of our Cultural Advent Calendar, where we count down the highlights of 2022 day by day until Christmas and beyond. Our look at our favorite movies from this year continues with Bones and all.
Whereas two of my favorite movies from the last decade are Serious (Raw), the story of the perfect metamorphosis by Julia Ducournau which used cannibalism to comment on non-conformity to society’s norms, and 2018 by Luca Guadagnino Suspiria remake, I was already predisposed to like Bones and all.
Directed by Guadagnino – who this year won the award for best director Venice Film Festival for his efforts – and set in 1980s America, Bones and all is based on the award-winning novel by Camille DeAngelis. It sees teenage Maren (Taylor Russell) abandoned by her father (André Holland) after her cannibalistic impulses drive them to the city one too many times. She leaves her money, her birth certificate and a tape in which she tells of her struggle to protect her daughter from the cannibalistic instincts she began to display since she was a child. Maren searches for her mother, who left when she was a baby, and meets several fellow “eaters” on her journey through the backroads of America, including the seemingly benevolent Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and Sully (Mark Rylance) far more disturbing.
What follows is not the horror film you might imagine, but more of a heady and endearing character study that in my book is one of the most romantic films of 2022. It blends a coming-of-age narrative with quixotic yearning and poetic meditation about belonging, which demonstrates (to paraphrase one of the characters) that the world of love wants monsters within it.
While cannibalism as an allegory of the outsider and the exploration of burgeoning sexuality through the prism of horror is hardly new ground, what sets Bones and all aside is that it can sometimes make your stomach churn, but it will definitely make your heart ache.
Guadagnino astutely chooses never to let his camera linger on gratuitous scenes of Grand Guignol gore (see: final act of Suspiria) and instead allows for some beautifully shot close-ups and the evocative sound design does most of the heavy lifting. She doesn’t shy away from the visceral aspect of what it’s like to feed and be enslaved by a ravenous impulse, but she uses the story of this Bonnie and Clyde whose survival depends on cannibalistic binges to delve into intimacy and what it means to belong. There’s also some tantalizing reading to be had about how Maren and Lee are symbolic stand-ins, whether they’re the underdogs of Reaganism, drug addiction, or the queer community.
The film overall isn’t as nuanced a parable about acceptance through unconditional love as it is Serious (Raw) was (especially when dealing with themes of intergenerational trauma and the literal and symbolic scars parents leave on their offspring), and the final act feels a tad more formulaic than what precedes it. However, the Malickian shots capturing the doubly bleak and beautiful landscapes of the American countryside – courtesy of cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan – as well as the minimalist elegy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score more than make up for it. As for the acting, each brings its own A-game, with great showcases from Chalamet, Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg – who has a significantly more gross reunion with Guadagnino and Chalamet afterward heartbreakingly beautiful monologue in Call me by your name. And boy, can that man deliver a monologue… Although this time you’ll wince rather than flush your tear ducts.
And then there’s Taylor Russell, who is note-perfect and brilliantly conveys her character’s boldness and sensitivity, allowing glimmers of struggling shame with a liberating sense of release to illuminate even the smallest of her gazes.
How he injects such humanity into Maren ensures that the film’s balancing act between romance and menace works a treat. Through his interpretation, we feel the intimacy of young love and understand it Bones and all it’s not about cannibalism or survival on the margins: it’s about what we flawed and vulnerable humans, no matter who and what we are, are willing to do to love and be loved unconditionally. Bones and all.
Bones and all (2022, D: Luca Guadagnino) with Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg.