Bones and All (2022) Film Review

And that’s the problem with Luca Guadagninos’ “Bones and All.” There is no beauty, no sensuality.
Eventually, it becomes impossible to feel anything for our unhappy couple, not least because Guadagnino keeps shifting the moral and ethical ground rules.
Our third victim is a gay man working at one of the stalls in a circus. And it’s OK. He’s gay. No one is going to miss him. No one is going to care. Only when they discover that the guy has a wife and family are they overcome with guilt.

I remember seeing George A. Romero’s haunting Pittsburgh vampire movie “Martin” for the first time in the early eighties. The eponymous hero, in glorious black-and-white, has his first sexual encounter (with a girl) and discovers, in the moment’s passion, that he is a vampire.

Sex and vampirism are inextricably linked. That’s why some of my favorite movies of the last few decades, from Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” to Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” are vampire movies. Being gay, of course, heightens the experience. Always watching for others like us. Always living on the outskirts of society yet desperately trying to become part of it. Always being the Stax and never the Motown girl. Gay men and vampires have a lot in common. I have always been a night person. So, being offered the chance of eternal life, if the only drawback is sleeping in a coffin during the day, would be very tempting. Alright, I would have to kill a few thousand people over the eons, but their deaths would be so beautiful, so spectacularly sexy. Add some gorgeous music by Wojciech Kilar and the children of the night; what sweet music we would make.

And that’s the problem with Luca Guadagninos’ “Bones and All.” There is no beauty, no sensuality.

Taylor Russell’s Maren is an Eater, a cannibal who, from an early age, craves to eat the flesh of others. Naturally, she is confused about this. So is her dad (André Holland) who, after years of keeping her behavior secret and fleeing from one town to another (we know that she killed and ate an eight-year-old boy at summer camp and, we are introduced to her, as she bites off a friend’s finger at a sleepover) casts her adrift when she turns eighteen. Like a vampire or a gay man, she eventually discovers that there are others like her – a little bit late in the game at eighteen, you would think, especially with all that blood behind her – and they can smell one another from a distance.

Mark Rylance (hamming it up, but in that unique Rylance way) plays Sully, the first Eater she encounters – he smells her first. Sully only eats those of us who are about to expire, and we see the victim’s life in her photographs as Maren and Sully, now bonded, chomp into her quaking flesh. Sully also keeps a (large) piece of hair from each of his victims as a memento mori. How sentimental of him! He even offers Maren a few sage words of advice on how to live her next four decades while subsisting on human flesh. Yet, something about him – apart from being a cannibal – doesn’t seem quite right to Maren, so she bolts after their human feast.

Bones and All

Her second acquaintance is Lee (Timothée Chalamet), an Eater who kills his victims, but only if they deserve It. He’s a hippy Eater with dyed hair and Chalamet is slumming a little here, doing a variation on his gay character in Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name.” Adequate, but a bit disposable.

Later, in the film’s best and only truly effective sequence, we encounter two more Eaters who take things to another level, consuming their victims’ “bones and all”. This is a genuinely frightening encounter with the fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg (Chalamet’s dad in “Call Me by Your Name”) playing against type and giving us a few spine-chilling moments as an Eater who savors every morsel of his degustation.

From here, it’s an unhappy segue into road movie territory as Maren, with Lee in tow, sets out to find her birth mother (another effective cameo, this time by Jessica Harper as her grandmother!) with only the movie’s inventive, sometimes haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross offering a modicum of respite. Eventually, it becomes impossible to feel anything for our unhappy couple, not least because Guadagnino, adapting Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 young adult novel, keeps shifting the moral and ethical ground rules. For instance:

If all Eaters have their own moral code, why can’t you choose NOT to be one?

There is a brief portion of the film when Maren and Lee settle down and start living like “normal” humans. All those urges seem to vanish when they are playing house. Seems like it was a CHOICE after all!

And then there is the guilt.

Our first victim is a dying old lady. OK, Maren says. I can live with that.

Our second victim is a nasty sexist Drunk at a store. OK, Lee says. I can live with that.

Our third victim is a gay man (Jake Horowitz, memorable) working at one of the stalls in a circus. He’s cute, and Lee notices that he’s not wearing a wedding ring – the film is set during the late eighties. The scene is played as a gay encounter and, as Chalamet is jerking him off and he is about to come, he gets his throat slit. Maren witnesses this but never questions Lee about the sex act. And it’s OK. He’s gay. No one is going to miss him. No one is going to care.

Only when they discover that the guy has a wife and family are they overcome with guilt.

Their feelings, whether pertaining to their human prey or the lives that lie ahead of them, never make sense. Worse, they make the viewer complicit, so you end up feeling guilty for giving Russell a little of your trust at the start of the movie. Those spoilt and boring kids on Guadagnino’s Limited Series “We Are Who We Are” are, by comparison, more attractive and more worthy of our respect.

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