Luca Guadagnino’s latest film Bones and All was released in theaters nationwide on November 23. In this 130-minute fusion of romance and horror, it isn’t long before the strength of your stomach is tested. Within the first 10 minutes, there’s a particularly gory moment that will make even the most avid horror movie fan squirm in their seat. The reason for this discomfort isn’t just the graphic nature (although the visuals of the moment could certainly be referred to as graphic), but the gravity of the situation itself. This is because the act of violence involves one of the most taboo and disturbing topics: cannibalism.
The perpetrator of this violence, and our main character, is a young girl named Maren (Taylor Russell). When Maren’s cannibalistic impulses are revealed at a sleepover with her classmates, we as the audience are shocked, faced with the jarring dichotomy between Maren’s quiet, unassuming personality and her animalistic misdeed. The one person who doesn’t seem to be shocked, though, is Maren’s father (André Holland). He reveals to Maren that she has a history of impulsive, cannibalistic behavior reaching back to childhood (much of which she doesn’t seem to remember) which was genetically inherited from her mother. When he later abandons her, no longer wanting to live this lifestyle of covering up for her crimes, Maren sets out on a journey through the Midwest in an effort to discover more about her condition.
Along the way, Maren meets some fellow “Eaters,” as they’re so aptly named. The first is Sully (Mark Rylance), an eccentric, elderly man who teaches Maren the skill of locating other Eaters by scent. The other is Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a young, street-wise Eater whom she begins to develop a connection with. Maren and Lee hit the road, finding intimacy and acceptance with each other, while also struggling with the moral implications of their appetites.
The setting and time period are not just backdrops in this film, but instead, add another rich layer to its subject matter. Maren and Lee’s journey through the 1980s Midwest consists of sprawling cornfields, vast plains, and endless highways and backroads.The landscape shots are breathtaking, shining a light on the beauty of rural America that doesn’t always get showcased. Any interaction with other human life occurs in run-down, sparsely populated areas, giving us glimpses of quaint, small-town diners and gas stations. All of this vacancy and isolation feels both romantic and threatening. It deepens the connection between Maren and Lee, but it also creates tension in the viewer, leaving them with the feeling that danger could jump out from a darkened street corner at any moment.
The strong performances in this movie are also part of what makes it work so well. The shocking subject matter might’ve come off as salacious if not for the intentionality and care brought by each actor. Despite significantly less screen time than the two leads, Rylance gives a truly memorable performance as the eerie and off-putting Sully, stealing each and every scene that he appears in. However, it’s the lead performances that give the film its heartbeat. Taylor Russell shines in her ability to portray the conflicted nature of Maren as she fights against her own innate hunger, a struggle that Russell plays with both vulnerability and power. Chalamet also does an excellent job, slowly letting down Lee’s defenses, allowing us to see the tender heart underneath his confident exterior. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a collaboration between Guadagnino and Chalamet. The pair previously teamed up for the critically acclaimed 2018 film Call Me By Your Name. (Incidentally, Chalamet’s Call Me By Your Name co-star, Armie Hammer, was involved in a cannibalism scandal that surfaced in 2021; However, Guadagnino has made it clear that the subject matter of Bones and All is in no way connected to that controversy.)
Bones and All is simultaneously delectable and difficult to stomach. The depictions of cannibalism are surprisingly few and far between, and never so long or gory that it feels unbearable to watch. However, this film still isn’t a great fit for the faint of heart, and it wouldn’t be my #1 recommendation for anyone who feels queasy at the sight of blood and torn flesh or despises the sound of particularly loud chewing.
Despite the gory subject matter, this film offers up a significant amount of sweetness, which was a surprise compared to the more gruesome and intense focus of the movie’s trailer. The film delivers on those horror aspects, but it also contains moments of intimacy that help it hold onto its humanity amongst the feeding frenzy. In moments where we watch Maren and Lee ride a Ferris wheel at the state fair or read together in a beautiful meadow, the tone comes much closer to a coming-of-age love story than it does to a horror film. These characters don’t feel like monsters, but like troubled teens who’ve been dealt the worst of cards. In the end, the cannibalism doesn’t feel like it’s meant to represent cannibalism at all, instead becoming a metaphorical representation for any sort of “difference” a person might have that leads them to feel shameful or excluded. Maren’s craving for human flesh could be interpreted as sexual desire or even addiction, but her relatable sense of longing for understanding and companionship remains the same.
The final few minutes of Bones and All are intense, heart-wrenching, and magnificently bloody. Although this ending comes abruptly, finishing the narrative in a jarring way, you could say that this abrupt nature reflects the danger of our main characters’ lifestyles. When the choices are eat or be eaten, there is always the potential for violence. But one thing is for certain: Bones and All is giving audiences something to feast upon.
Bones and All is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.