Bones and All

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Distributed by: MGM

Written by Michael Clawson

“Bones and All,” the latest film from Luca Guadagnino, is a clear marriage of elements from the director’s previous two films. In a striking fusion of genres, “Bones and All” takes the grisly violence of “Suspiria” and combines it with the delicate romance of “Call Me By Your Name.” Key to what sets this film apart from the director’s previous work, however, is its setting: leaving Europe behind, Guadagnino now takes to the wide-open roads of 1980s USA.

Before it begins traversing state lines, this macabre road movie starts in Virginia, where a gory incident thrusts teenager Maren (Taylor Russell, “Waves”) into a life on the margins. At a sleepover, when a girlfriend dangles newly painted fingernails in front of Maren’s eyes, Maren sensually leans in as if for a kiss, but instead sinks her teeth into the friend’s finger, nearly cleaving it off completely. Like others in the film’s world, Maren is an “eater” – a cannibal, for whom the consumption of human flesh is more like a deep-set existential need than a correctable aberration in behavior. Maren’s single father (André Holland) is all too aware of his daughter’s condition, and he’s quick to skip town with Maren before the cops descend – the speed at which he acts when Maren comes home with blood dripping profusely from her lips suggests they’ve been through this plenty of times before.

But when Maren’s father finally finds himself at a loss for what to do with his daughter, he abandons her, leaving Maren to take to the road on her own in search of her mother. While the time period is the ‘80s, Maren’s drifting through the Midwest on greyhound buses and pickup trucks has the feel of a film from the American ‘70s. The folksy pluck of a guitar on the score (courtesy of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor) and Maren’s alienation as an outsider beg comparison to the tone and disaffection that coursed through the New Hollywood.

So too does the eccentric image of Mark Rylance’s Sully, the first eater that Maren meets, feel loosely connected to the countercultural style of the American New Wave. Sully has a feather in his cap and a jacket covered in pins when he creepily approaches Maren in Ohio – she learns from him that eaters, with some practice, can smell one another. In a satisfyingly committed performance by Rylance, Sully is an unnerving, unstable figure with rotten yellow teeth behind his curled lips. Maren ditches Sully soon after they meet, but he’s a haunting absence thereafter.

Maren makes a safer connection with Timothée Chalamet’s Lee, another young eater wandering through highway side towns as he satisfies his hunger for the human body. While Russell’s performance in “Bones and All” is captivating for its sensitivity and reserve, Chalamet’s is less remarkable. He’s resting on his laurels here, and it diminishes the romance that develops between Marin and Lee. Guadagnino’s direction also poses a bit of a problem: the chilliness in Guadagnino’s filmmaking, which is perfect in moments of dread, falls short when the love story calls for more warmth.

Backstory about Lee’s troubled upbringing doesn’t come with great resonance either. But on the whole, there’s more to admire about “Bones and All” than there is to take issue with. Despite it running counter to the film’s emotion at times, the uneasiness in Guadagnino’s controlled direction is tremendously appealing on its own (I love the slow camera swivels he uses to settle into a shot). And while the movie is a romance, it belongs to Russell more than it does to her and Chalamet as a pair. With this film, her star rises ever higher.

“Bones and All” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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