Taylor Russell stars in Bones and All as Maren, a soft-spoken girl who seems to be a loner by choice. As her classmates try to seek out her company, she brushes them off due to her overprotective father’s orders. Here, the trope of popular girls welcoming an outcast into the fold as a cruel prank is flipped on its head. The sleepover, a warm, cozy haze of pastels and glitter, comes to an instant halt when Maren lets her guard down for a moment and opens herself up to intimacy. As the girls give each other manicures, she bites off an unsuspecting would-be friend’s finger, repeating a pattern she and her single dad are used to.
She’s just not like the other girls, you see. Ever since her childhood, she’s had a taste for flesh she can’t explain that comes from her mom, who left the family before Maren could form memories of her, leaving her without any means of understanding her particular proclivities. Eventually, it’s too much, and her dad leaves Maren with some cash, a cassette detailing the history of her unique diet, and her birth certificate to go her own way. Set on finding her mom even though she’s not sure her mom wants to see her, she buys a one-way bus ticket.
As soon as her world begins opening up, Maren learns she isn’t quite as alone as she thought as an older man named Sully (Mark Rylance) smells her out as a fellow cannibal (though the actual word is never used in the film, instead, they refer to themselves as eaters, or otherwise acknowledge a shared hunger) and vows to take her under his wing, beginning with a feast. Rylance, the first of director Luca Guadagmino’s repeat collaborators to show up, is unsettling as he is avuncular. Costume designer Giulia Piersanti deserves an Oscar for Sully’s fishing vest alone.
Maren has always played her cards close to her chest as a survival mechanism, and Russell’s furrowed brows tell the story as she contemplates her next moves, knowing her instincts both betray her and keep her alive. Rylance is excellent as the middle-aged man who doesn’t understand why a teenage girl he sniffed out on the street might not want to live with him, and his performance keeps you guessing about Sully’s motivations.
Lee (Timothée Chalamet) shows up as a more freewheeling eater, taking an almost righteous attitude towards the practice, and Maren is unable to resist letting him in for too long as the pair hits the road, stealing cars as they feast, and slowly letting their guards down. Eaters live by their own ad hoc ethical codes, and Maren must figure out something she can live with as Sully, Lee, and a few more eaters she meets along the way fail to provide her with answers.
Bones is set in Reagan-era America, though contemporary events don’t come up in conversation, and the excellent costume design focuses more on reflecting the characters’ interior than making obvious nods to the decade. Instead, time is framed in the background, through crackling televisions and radios. Crucially, while the story could not take place post-internet, the film also nods to that era’s brutality by highlighting which lives it deemed disposable; attitudes that still bear too much weight today. Queer men are fair game because no one will care if they’re gone. Some can deal with cannibalism if they must, but Blackness is where they draw the line. The biases are both distinctly of their time and modern as ever, but the film — thankfully — does not dwell on period piece signifiers, telling a story enriched by the context of its time, but not beholden to it.
Chloë Sevigny, who has embraced her own motherhood with a string of standout performances embodying the most cursed mothers possible, has a brief but unforgettable role.
The movie is not gore-forward. In fact, there’s barely any people eating for viewers to ogle and the restraint makes the flesh-eating we do witness all the more uncomfortable.
Instead, Guadagnino focuses on the aftermath when euphoria and guilt settle in simultaneously, and fills in the rest with blood smeared on their clothing and the sounds of running showers. (Maren, somehow, always looks put together, but her wardrobe changes from the oversized sweaters of a high school loner, to flowy-but-tough florals, to sturdier denim looks as she finds a sense of self.)
While there’s not a weak link in the cast, Russell’s performance is particularly commendable. The actress, whose previous best-known credit was the 2019 movie Waves, grounds a story that in the wrong hands could easily sever its emotional connection with the audience. While her steady performance gives her accomplished co-stars room to lean into their bizarre characters, Russell does not cede control and makes it impossible to forget that this is Maren’s story.
Bones is a culmination of what Guadagnino does best, merging the sinister body horror of Suspiria with the reserved tenderness of Call Me By Your Name to create a haunting tale of young love and the compromises of self-preservation. Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, it’s a wholly original entry in the young adult fantasy genre and Guadagnino’s strongest work to date.
Bones and All hits theaters Nov. 18.
Bones feels like a culmination of what Luca does best, bringing in the body horror of Suspiria with the tenderness of Call Me By Your Name, creating a haunting tale of young love and the compromises of self-preservation. Based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, it's a wholly original entry in the young adult fantasy genre and some of Guadagnino's strongest work to date.