Bones and All movie review: Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell’s cannibal romance

Superstar Timothee Chalamet and filmmaker Luca Guadagnino both know their way around a coming-of-age romance.

They’ve even done it together.

Bones and All is a different proposition from Call Me By Your Name’s dreamy, wistful Italian milieu, but it has some of that same DNA of a heady, complicated courtship.

The complexity in the 1980s-set Bones and All is that Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Chalamet) are both cannibals, not by choice but by genetics. In the world of Bones and All, cannibals are isolated “feeders” who can’t resist the urge to gorge on human flesh. It’s as part of who they are as it is ours to eat food of the non-people variety.

Maren is a teenager and after a period of suppressing her imperative, dad Leonard (Andre Holland) leaves her to fend for herself. Armed with a bit of money, her birth certificate and an explanation/apology tape from her father, Maren sets out to find the mother (Chloe Sevigny) who abandoned them both many years earlier.

On the road, she meets Sully (Mark Rylance), an older cannibal who literally sniffed her out during the night. Creepy to the extreme, Sully teaches Maren a little of their ways but she’s uncomfortable around him and flees.

A few states over, she meets Lee inside a supermarket. He’s scruffy, edgy and she immediately identifies him as just like her. Their shared affliction – and presumably some hormonal urges – bonds them deeply and they from there on, they travel together.

In many ways, Bones and All is a typical love story, especially any which involve two outcasts who find salvation in each other. Here are two young people with an unusual characteristic who have always felt they don’t belong anywhere or with anyone. But now they have each other.

Chalamet and Russell have a palpable chemistry – obviously important for any romance – but what distinguishes their performances is the nuance in how they portray their characters’ vulnerabilities.

It manifests in different ways. Russell’s Maren is more naïve, she is new to being completely alone while Chalamet’s Lee holds his past traumas and disappointments just beneath the surface.

Guadagnino elicits tender, sophisticated performances from his young leads which actually charts a character arc. All that is tantamount because the whole cannibals thing is always present, and you’re really going to have to create compassion for your characters when they’re gnawing on other people.

The violence is never played for camp and even the most extreme, actually stomach-churning, disgusting sequences have a weird poetry to it. There’s a reason for each incident, it’s not gratuitous, even if it is properly gross and queasy.

And we know Guadagnino can lean into gore, especially if you’ve seen his 2018 remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria – now that’s body horror on a different level.

Bones and All has real moments of grace and elegance, and Guadagnino and cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan capture the undeniably beautiful Chalamet and Russell in stunning visual tableaus. It’s enough to make you forget that the two spend most of their scenes smeared in either fresh or caked, dry blood.

The film is a different, provocative way to consider an all-encompassing, all-consuming love.

Rating: 3.5/5

Bones and All is in cinemas now

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