Luca Guadagnino and Timothee Chalamet reunite for Bones and All, another young-love romance, though this time, instead of a swoony Italian summer fling, it’s an Americana cannibal feast. Based on Camille DeAngelis’s novel of the same name (adapted for the screen by David Kajganich), Bones and All is a YA love story for Near Dark fans, or Bonnie and Clyde for the cannibal set.
It begins with Maren (Taylor Russell), chomping down on a friend’s finger during a sleepover. She is forced to relocate with her father (Andre Holland), who abandons her as soon as she turns eighteen. Maren then sets out on a road trip odyssey to find her estranged mother and find out more about herself along the way.
Bones and All does not belabor the world in which it exists. Maren is not a vampire, but she is an “eater”, and like vampirism, her cannibalism appears to be some kind of preternatural condition that she cannot help having—she was born like this and needs to eat people to satisfy her hunger. Bones and All has a LOT in common with Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film, Near Dark, one of the most realistic and bleakest vampire films ever made. Near Dark drains the sexiness from vampires and leaves only the repulsive shell of those who must destroy to consume. The vampires of Near Dark at first appear cool and sexy, but are quickly revealed to be pathetic outsiders, unable to ever pass in society because of their destructive tendencies. The eaters of Bones are much the same, relegated to backroads and a makeshift existence in the margins of society.
But still, Maren finds like minds. First, she meets Sully (a superbly creepy Mark Rylance), an older eater who, effectively, teaches Maren to hunt, and attempts to instill some rules into her. But Sully is strange and off-putting, so Maren leaves at her first opportunity. Then, she meets Lee (Timothee Chalamet), a fellow young person alone on the road. They begin traveling together, and inevitably fall in love. Though Bones has its moments of gore, Guadagnino films backroads America with a wide lens, capturing the endless vistas of the road and the open spaces of rural America in beautiful light. If Call Me By Your Name imparts a sense of hot sunshine and long, lazy afternoons, Bones and All offers the sensation of freedom and possibility that comes with road tripping to nowhere. Maren and Lee have a destination in mind, but are in no hurry to get there, and their sense of aimless exploration translates to the audience.
Little else does, though. This is a lightweight effort from Guadagnino, big on vibes but light on substance. The style choices are excellent, from Chalamet’s hair to the lowkey uneasy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography, but thematically it feels a little undercooked. It’s primarily a love story, and on that level, works very well. Chalamet and Russell have great chemistry, there is a sense of inevitability to their love, but Chalamet and Guadagnino, having made such an impactful doomed romance story before, feel like they’re treading water a little bit. At this point, Chalamet can probably play a romantic sad boy in his sleep. The one doing the most here is Taylor Russell, who embodies Maren’s growing self-confidence and desire to find her place, despite being an eater, perfectly.
Besides Near Dark, Bones also reminds me of Queen & Slim, another doomed romance road trip story. Like that film, Bones is a bit uneven and shallow, but it is SO stylish and confident in its aesthetic choices, it is sure to find a devoted fanbase. And like Queen & Slim, Bones and All isn’t a bad film, it’s just not as good as other films occupying the same space—it’s not even the best sad romance Guadagnino and Timothee Chalamet have made together. But it looks great, it sounds great, Mark Rylance is being a weird little guy, Michael Stuhlbarg shows up for a scene, making this a CMBYN reunion, Taylor Russell is PRESENT, and Timothee Chalamet continues being the hottest wet spaghetti noodle cinema has ever seen. Bones and All won’t stick with you like some other tragic romances, but it offers just enough style to make for an entertaining, if melancholy and rather gross, couple of hours.
Bones and All is now playing exclusively in theaters.