Bones And All seems, at first glance, to be another entry in the ‘Sexy Vampires’ canon. Strictly speaking, the blood-sucking heroes of Luca Guadagnino’s seventh film are a kind of cannibal-vampire hybrid, chowing down on flesh just as much as blood, with the ability to smell one another. But flesh-eating is really only half the story; as with the book by Camille DeAngelis on which it is based, this is a simmering, softly played story, told with both tenderness and violence.
An understated character study of burgeoning sexuality in the 1980s, it feels very much of a piece with Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino’s masterful, Italy-set 2017 romantic drama. So when the first act of cannibalism arrives in the opening few minutes, with a finger suddenly bitten clean off, it hits like a hammer: this is not just another bite of the peach.
It’s played beautifully and believably by Taylor Russell as Maren, the finger-biter in question, carrying the film with an unguarded, raw energy. She’s playing much younger than her actual age, but shows the same captivating naivety and sense of sexual awakening that made Timothée Chalamet a star in Call Me By Your Name. Reuniting with Guadagnino here, Chalamet is almost an elder statesman, a slightly more experienced cannibal showing Maren the ropes, and together they forge a nomadic life on the road together, sharing a fiery, unpolished chemistry.
There are all sorts of outsider allegories you can read into the cannibalism. At the start of the film, Maren lives in a rundown, one-bedroom mobile home, and seems quietly jealous of her wealthy, white suburban friends, a racial and class anxiety that seems to bleed into her bloodlust; it’s impossible, too, not to find a queer reading here, even in heterosexual characters. Lines like, “I thought I was the only one,” could have been plucked straight out of a gay coming-of-age drama.
A contained character study about the most human of passions and desires, wrapped up in inhuman tastes.
But it’s a story that can just as easily be taken at face value. Unlike his last toe-dip into genre, the ambitious but misguided Suspiria, Guadagnino doesn’t force the audience’s hand with a message. This is a contained character study about the most human of passions and desires, wrapped up in inhuman tastes.
Guadagnino is interested, too, in different responses to abnormal urges. Everyone has their own form of ethics. Michael Stuhlbarg (in a horrifying Call Me By Your Name reunion with Chalamet) plays a hillbilly who espouses eating human bones, while Mark Rylance offers a typically precise performance as a lonely cannibal drifter who only eats the nearly dead — as shudderingly creepy as he is morbidly funny. (“I ate my own grandad,” he offers, matter-of-factly.)
For most of the film, the director finds extraordinary beauty in the grit of the Midwest, criss-crossing America to an evocative period soundtrack, so it’s almost a shame that the final act has to end in more formulaic genre fashion. But blips are rare here. This is a devastatingly romantic road movie, one that will make your heart ache as easily as your stomach churn.