In 2015, Camille DeAngelis’s book bones and all hit shelves. Seven years later, this book about the romance between two cannibals who travel across the United States, by director Luca Guadagnino, teaming up again with of suspiria writer, David Kajganich, and call me by your name Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg. Starring Taylor Russell as Maren, a young woman born with cannibalistic desires.bones and all is about how she travels the country looking for answers about herself, meeting Lee (Chalamet) along the way.
In his heart, bones and all it’s a coming-of-age story, and it draws on the travelogue format to the best of its ability to capture that feeling of freedom and discovery. There’s a vintage, nostalgic quality to this film, and it’s not just because of the 1980s setting. The lack of modern technology, as well as the separation from major distractions and big cities, forces the characters from bones and all Focus on themselves and their relationships.
The bar was set high for Russell and Chalamet to deliver endearing characters rooted in realism, despite the horror elements of bones and all. Maren and Lee are complex characters, to say the least, who do horrible things. However, Russell’s portrayal of Maren captures the character’s innocence, and she sells how Maren wishes she didn’t have to give in to her cannibalistic desires. It’s hard to empathize with a cannibal, but Russell finds the humanity in Maren. Her acting is sweet and vulnerable, and without her, this character wouldn’t work.
As for Chalamet, he lives up to what’s expected of him when it comes to these softer-spoken roles. While he’s not as empathetic as Maren, there’s a broken but hopeful quality to Lee, thanks to Chalamet’s performance. The chemistry between Chalamet and Russell captures the sweetness of first love, as well as how happy young lovers can be for each other when they finally find someone who understands them.
While the actors do their best to win viewers over to the central couple, it’s hard to separate them from their horrible deeds, and that’s a major problem with the movie. Cannibalism is often used as a kind of metaphor; however, it is not clear what that metaphor might be for in bones and all case, as well as being a tool to put Lee and Maren on the margins of society. Fictional couples who enjoy the terrible things they do have an audience, like viewers love a good villain. Unfortunately, bones and all he commits to seeing Maren and Lee as not the villains, so when they inadvertently do horrible things, it makes their actions lack agency. It also gives the film a sense of hopelessness, as there isn’t necessarily an answer to its cannibal problem, so the film’s construction seems very small.
This is a bigger problem with bones and all. Kajganich and Guadagnino have created a vivid world, one where the rules of cannibalism feel like second nature. However, that means finding out more about this world as a viewer is disappointing. On top of that, variables are set that seem to lead to something grander, but when they are picked up again, the resolution fades. In a prose novel, a simmering modern gothic like this can be satisfying, but for a movie, that’s a hard sell, especially with a plot that meanders as much as bones and all.
For those who love a vivid world and soft stories, bones and all can play the right notes. However, given the dark and graphic subject matter upon which this story is built, it’s disappointing to see what should be a high-stakes setup handled as if it were a slice-of-life narrative. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for the horror of everyday life, but bones and all he doesn’t want to commit to the horror genre. Tender moments are sweet, but they don’t go well with a story of cannibals in love. Perhaps, if the movie were shorter, this would not be so striking. Unfortunately, at over two hours long and meanderingly paced, bones and all it’s a slow burn with a moderate payoff that leaves viewers hungry.
Bones and All opens in theaters on November 23.