Bones and All (R16, 130 mins) Directed by Luca Guadagnino ****½
In present day North America, Maren and Lee are on the run.
Maren has been driven to get on a Greyhound bus as far as it will take her – and to never look back at the carnage she is leaving behind, in the last town she and her daddy called home. Somewhere further up the map of the mid-west, Maren might find her mother. Or that might just be a cruel trick her daddy has played, to get her to leave.
Lee is another drifter, hopping from town to town in whatever pickup truck or wagon he can boost, from whoever his last victim was.
And somewhere out in the wilds, obsessed with meeting Maren again, is the older, quite mad and wildly dangerous Sully, who we know must turn up a few times before Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is allowed to shudder to halt.
Bones and All is based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis.
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What unites Maren, Lee and Sully, is they are afflicted with cannibalism. Maren, being youngest, only needs to feed every few months. Lee must eat more often than that. But Sully might need to kill every week, just to keep the fevers of withdrawal away.
Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name) first North American-shot film unfolds in a matter of fact and uninflected way, with only a minimum of flashbacks to fill in a few of Lee’s misremembered details. We come to know these characters as they come to know each other. The wary compromise that throws Maren and Lee together, believably becomes attraction – and then love. Just as the seemingly helpful and avuncular Sully becomes monstrous, as he lets his mask slip.
Like Raw and Let The Right One In – the two most obvious recent comparisons – Bones and All is a study of adolescence at odds with society. It is a lot closer in tone to On The Road than it is to – say – Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (sheesh, that’s a film that’s aged badly).
Timothée Chalamet (Dune) and Taylor Russell (Escape Room) are affecting and superb as the young lovers, while Mark Rylance (Don’t Look Up) turns in another of his gallery of scenery-chewing bit parts. Rylance is one of the most hypnotically watchable actors around – and his Sully is a villain for the ages. A late cameo from Chloe Sevigny is as perfect as it is chilling.
The cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan glows like he had a tribute to Terrence Malick’s Badlands in mind (he possibly did), while the soundtrack is from the reliably thunderous Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Mank), studded with tracks from everyone from Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails to A-Ha, Duran Duran and Kiss.
The pace is a little leisurely – and I reckon shaving 10 minutes out of the final third would have been a great idea. But this is still an engrossing, provoking and haunting film.
Bones and All isn’t just a horror movie, neither is it just a teen romance, or road movie. It is all of those things – and very beautifully – most of the time. Bones and All got under my skin and followed me around for days. Very recommended.
Bones and All is now screening in select cinemas nationwide.