Busan 2022 Review: BONES AND ALL, An All-Consuming Adolescent Love Story
A teenager with a taste for human flesh, finds love on the road, while searching for her estranged mother.
Timothée Chalamet reunites with his Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino for another unconventional romance, the cannibal road movie Bones And All, adapted from Camille DeAngelis’ award-winning 2016 novel of the same name. Chalamet is just one of the many closeted flesh eaters encountered by Taylor Russell’s teenage protagonist Maren, as she sets out to find her mother, and hopefully some answers for her rabid affliction.
Leaning heavily into the late-eighties period setting and lovers-on-the-run narrative, Guadagnino delivers a movie about lonely adolescents yearning for love and acceptance as hungrily as they seek their next human prey. Bones And All should resonate as strongly with the YA crowd as those with an appetite for copious bloodletting, with its unabashedly romantic story of outsiders finding one another, and learning that they are not alone or different, no matter their persuasion or proclivity.
Maren has an inexplicable yet uncontrollable taste for human flesh, and has done for as long as she can remember. After her latest outburst forces her and her father (André Holland) to flee town in the dead of night yet again, he abandons her, leaving an audio tape’s worth of explanation and a small envelope of cash by way of a goodbye. Left to fend for herself, Maren sets out to find her mother, a woman she barely remembers, desperate to get some kind of explanation for why she is like this.
No sooner has she hopped on a greyhound and set out from her Virginia home, she attracts the attention of Sully (Mark Rylance in almost distractingly unpleasant form), a creepy old dude who claims he could smell her a mile away. Offering Maren shelter in the dead of night, he reveals that he too is an “eater” and together they share a meal. Maren sees nothing of herself in this reedy-voiced creep, and soon flees the scene. When she meets Lee (Chalamet), however, there is an instant connection. He eats out of necessity, just like she does, and seems to wrestle with the moral ramifications in a way that brings the pair closer. They head out together, but soon enough cross paths with other cannibals, and Maren realises that even within their secret underground community, the world can be a very dangerous place.
Terence Mallick’s Badlands is an obvious stylistic touchstone here, as Maren’s blossoming first love plays out against the epic backdrop of the American countryside. As their burgeoning appetites and escalating bodycount mirror their growing love for each other, Guadagnino never holds back on the more horrific elements of the story. Their exploits closely resemble those of vampires and zombies, as they indulge a violent yet necessary evil in order to stay alive, as such the film also recalls Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and its story of desperate young lovers feeding a ruinous addiction.
Taylor Russell (Waves, Escape Room) treads the line between vulnerable and capable beautifully, ensuring that Maren convinces both as a timid loner out of her depth in the big, bad world, but simultaneously one who is willing to take a blade to your eyeball if you come too close. Romances and explanations might give her some solace, but unlike Twilight’s Bella Swan, Maren is the monster, and like Justine in Julia Ducournau’s Raw, she must learn to tame her own base desires if she is to survive in the adult world.
Lee isn’t much of a stretch for Chalamet, as he can pull of the waifish hillbilly loner in his sleep. He’s utterly convincing as a young man who has found a workable solution to satisfying his cannibalistic desires, while adhering to a few self-imposed rules in order to minimise collateral damage. It has come at a price, and Maren embodies some kind of attainable redemption for the young man, but they must survive threats from a host of other territorial, predatory, or just downright dangerous foes first if they are to find their happily ever after.
Beautifully shot by Arseni Khachaturan, and evocatively scored by the increasingly ubiquitous Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, supported by an expertly curated soundtrack of period-defining hits, Bones And All is imbued with a heightened sense of emotional resonance, as every interaction and altercation pulsates with the rawness of naive idealism and inexperience. In fact, the film operates at such a tremulous pitch of unsustainable heartbreak, that love can only triumph when embraced wholeheartedly, devoured, if you will, bones and all.