Bones And All

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There’s a long, storied, tradition of loved-up couples engaging on winding, rambling road trips while regularly stepping outside of the law in order to survive and in many ways, Luca Guadagnino’s Bones And All is no different. Keeping in the tradition of such movies as Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express and even Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde but fusing it with a horror-tinged, coming of age tale that’s vaguely reminiscent of Julia Ducournau’s Raw that gives a disturbing, yet heartfelt vision of what Twilight might have been like if someone like Malick or Wim Wenders gave it the sprawling Paris, Texas treatment.
So, cannibals in love is the brief of the day here, but before you go and start looking for Armie Hammer’s name in the production credits, Bones And All proves to be a profoundly disturbing, yet thought provoking study into young love and morals that isn’t afraid to provide some bite.

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In 1980’s Virginia, wide-eyed teen, Maren Yearly has her life turned upside down after she spontaneously acts on an powerful urge for human flesh at a sleepover which causes her and her father to flee to Maryland. However, when Maren turns eighteen, she awakens to find that he has abandoned her, leaving a recording explaining the reasons behind her savage actions and some valuable information about her absent mother. Maren is an “eater”, someone who has been born with the terrible need to consume human flesh every so often and that she has even been responsible for some deaths as a young child. Adapting to her new life alone on the road, Maren resolves to find her mother no matter what, so gathering up the money her father left for her, she heads towards the only lead she has in Minnesota.
Along the way, she meets a couple of fellow Eaters who are decidedly different from one another with the first being the elderly, somewhat mentally stunted Sully, an elderly man who claims he never kills unless he has to and whose sense of smell is so acute, he can actually pick up the scent of someone about to die of natural causes. However, despite giving her some handy tips, Sully is also as creepy as hell, owning a huge braid of hair made up of all the people he’s fed on and it’s obvious that he has a thing for Maren as he puts out an uncomfortable Herbert from Family Guy kind of vibe so she naturally hot foots it sharpish.
The other eater she bumps into is the charismatic Lee and the two bond as they travel around America and slowly fall in love. As their time together makes them question their whole nature (Maren’s guilt prevents her from wantinly killing at random) and their relationship goes through the usual peaks and valleys that all young love goes through (minus the flesh eating, of course), Maren hopes that finding her mother will answer some much needed questions about her very existence, but the continued sightings of Sully complicates matters to an unsettling degree.

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For those of you who don’t have the patience for one of those deliberately slow movies that navel gazes as it crawls it’s way across the more deserted states of America, then Bones And All may be something of a tough watch – conversely, those who take their cinematic violence with a heaping side of glibness may be legitimately taken aback by the raw, reality of the violence. With that being said, the fact this twisted romance has sprung from the brain of the man who not only examined forbidden relationships with Call Me By Your Name but also the actions of a fucked up coven of witches in his Suspiria remake, means that your surprise shouldn’t be so out of the blue.
Make no mistake, Bones And All is something of a hypnotic watch, its quiet, reserved nature slowly unraveling downplay horrors and banal atrocities committed all in the name of this nameless, secret sub-species of human that is driven to consume unwitting and unwilling longpig at periodic moments. The condition is wisely left vague with any unreliable details delivered via blood smeared word of mouth via Mark Rylance’s seemingly gentle Sully or Michael Stuhlbarg’s cameoing cannibal redneck, Jake and we never get a full understanding of exactly how being an eater works. We know they have a craving for human flesh, but we don’t know how regularly this terrible, biological demand comes around; a week? A month? There’s also no noticable benefits from the semi-regular consuming of people either, with no super powers or glamorous side effects that come with the shameful task so aside from a heightened sense of smell, up-sides are minimal as you’re condemned to a nomadic lifestyle and the absence of anything supernatural makes things seem more starkly real.

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The leads are phenomenal with Taylor Russell expelling empathy like a vaper exhaling exotically flavoured smoke and her resolve to not lose her soul to this condition she’s been cursed with provides the backbone of the piece with Timotheé Chalamet providing ample backup (not to mention a frequently bare torso) as Lee, who starts the film as a typical don’t-give-a-fuck vibe but retains his humanity thanks to Maren’s insistence that they don’t let themselves be consumed by their need to consume.
For a quiet, thoughtful, even elegant movie that tends to go light on the horror, when the bad stuff does surface it tends to be haunting stuff. Flatly refusing to glamorise Lee and Maren’s actions even once, death in Bones And All is drawn out, violent and frequently disturbing with an endless, final reel killing being genuinely upsetting by how real and desperate it’s played out. Elsewhere a revelation that an eater has cannibalized their own arms in an attempt to thwart the actions their desires will lead to scores some legitimate chills – elsewhere, Guadalajara delivers some nice, under the radar creeps too, especially when Maren hears the news that she claimed her first victim as a toddler.

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Tapping into the same kind of stylish art house, counter culture seen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (even down to a guilt torn character that rebels against their predatory life), Bones And All is an uneasily quiet love story that, when it gets its hands dirty, becomes a resoundingly disturbing experience that’ll fitting eat away at you for days.

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