Bones And All review: a twisted yet heartwarming cannibal romance

Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet embrace in Bones And All, directed by Luca Guadagnino
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Bones And All reunites director Luca Guadagnino with Timothée Chalamet for a film that impressively blends romance and horror.

After working together on 2017’s coming-of-age romance Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet are reunited for Bones And All. A film focusing on two young drifters who meet and fall in love, Guadagnino once again tackles a romantic drama, but one with a notable twist – the protagonists are cannibals. Cannibal horror seems (understandably) rather incompatible with a tale of young love, but Bones And All is not only impressively cohesive, but truly makes us care for the main characters. 

Taylor Russell plays Maren, a young woman whose cannibalism leads to social isolation. Abandoned by her father and left with only a birth certificate and tape, she embarks on a cross-country journey to find her mother and, possibly, some answers to the questions she has about her condition. During her journey she runs into others like her, including Lee (Chalamet) who she forms a strong connection with. 

For a movie that finds the middle ground between gory cannibal horror and romantic drama, it certainly doesn’t show any restraint when the horror moments come. Our introduction to Maren’s cannibalism comes swiftly and unexpectedly, and while the gory visuals are incredibly squeamish it’s the sound design that really makes an impact. Even when the camera pans away from the flesh-consuming there are crunches and squelches that make you see the action just as well in your imagination as you would with it right in front of you.

And yet, amongst the (not extremely frequent) carnage, there are some genuine tender moments in Bones And All. It manages to find the positive parts of two cannibal protagonists (who ought to be pretty repulsive) by treating them first as people. Russell and Chalamet excel in two meaty (sorry) roles that may be outwardly subdued but are internally extremely complex. Cannibalism in the world of the film is presented as some kind of inexplicable and powerful urge that’s difficult to control and near-impossible to outright deny. Therefore Maren and Lee struggle with the ethics of their human consumption, and the complicated pasts and interpersonal relationships it creates.

Then there’s the logistics of actually trying to live a semi-normal life while living with the urge to eat people. It’s a difficult situation, for sure. Russell and Chalamet effortlessly display all of this internal conflict. Russell’s performance is deepened by the desperation present in Maren’s search for answers. Lee is her opposite, where she wants to unearth the past he’d love nothing more than to forget it. As a result, Chalamet is moody and enigmatic throughout, but Lee’s bond with Maren brings him up to her level of likeability.

Our unlikely warm feelings towards those two are perfectly balanced out by an impressive supporting cast playing some horrific side characters. Russell and Chalamet are good, but Mark Rylance absolutely steals his scenes. As Sully, the first person Maren runs into on her road trip, he’s just incredibly creepy. At first, he’s playing the role of an eccentric (meaning frightening) old man (with over-the-top southern accent) with such gusto that it seems a bit silly.  That commitment to the role, though, is what makes him stand out. He morphs from subtly threatening to overtly horrifying over the course of Bones And All, and every moment he’s in is memorable. That’s a good thing for Rylance, but not such a good thing for us. If I could scrub my brain clean and forget his character ever existed, I would. That’s how nasty he is in this.

Guadagnino’s cannibal romance is an incredibly varied film. The central performances give the Maren and Lee plenty of emotional depth, and their bond is genuinely sweet. The romance is tender and believable, and the cannibalism is gory and squeamish. Somehow it goes together rather well, and doesn’t put us off the main characters in the way you’d perhaps expect. It’s a film I very much enjoyed, bones and all.

Bones And All is in UK cinemas on 25th November.

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