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The Battalion

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Criticism: ‘Bones and All’

Bones and all
via IMDb
Bones and all

Rating: 9/10

It’s been 12 years since the release of “Twilight” (2008), which seductively launched vampires and werewolves to the peak of fanfiction and popular imagination. “Bones and All” is attempting another young and horrific love story, now set in the cannibal world. It might not be as successful in making its subject matter so erotic, but unlike “Twilight,” this film is actually well-executed. 

Horror is around the corner but sensuality is at the core of “Bones and All.” Taylor Russell plays the 18-year-old Maren, who finds herself alone in the world after a string of dark events, which the audience can only try to prepare for. With nothing but a birth certificate and some cash, Maren functionally enters the plot of an 1980s road trip movie, meeting new “eaters” or cannibals along her travels. She finds the first in the form of Mark Rylance’s characteristically off-putting but terrifying Sully: the first of many older men confronted by our young heroine. 
The next eater she meets is the skinny shirtless heartthrob himself, Timothee Chalamet. Or rather, his character Lee. They journey together, both having hungers that only the other could understand and subsequent feelings that only the other could manage. They inevitably confront violence, but the cannibalistic acts themselves range from gruesome, evocative or biblically sacramental at the service of the characters. This isn’t a romantic cannibal movie; it’s a cannibal romance. 
 

For such outsiders, their other half is the comfort from the world around them. This romance isn’t particularly dramatic —it comes organically and easily. This budding first love is unconditional, and sweetly life-affirming. Maren and Lee have no reason to hold back when finally finding someone they can call home. Danger lurks and life is complicated, but love isn’t. In one of the film’s most remarkable scenes, Maren affirms that sentiment: “All I think is that I love you.”

How could the cannibal story be the most romantic film of the year? It comes from a director who’s almost too suited for this task. For those familiar with Luca Guadagnino’s previous work, this film is his logical next step. Effortlessly simple and romantic like “Call Me By Your Name,” (2017) or unabashedly twisted and horrific like “Suspiria” (2018), “Bones and All” applies all of Guadagnino’s sensibilities. His signature atmospheric style and deliberate pacing work wonders here, offering more room to live with the protagonists and feel their conflict rather than simply watch it. 

Guadagnino commonly employs a careful edit, often fading or slowly shifting perspectives. This was the Italian director’s first film set in America, and he saw the midwestern landscape as a character in and of itself. His cinematographer argues for a vastness and relieving freedom to the countryside. Roads are endless, so Maren and Lee have infinity in front of them to run from the hell behind them. The camera captures that naivete in Maren’s gaze or carelessness in Lee’s. Guadagnino’s ethereal touch elevates the story from teenage sensation to essential romance. 

Such visuals are paired with a genius soundscape, from its sound design and original score. My crass observation would note the sound design offers every “crunch” a real weight, but a sensitive observer would note that a lover’s breath has even more. The score is heavenly. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wrote the original compositions and manage a simple but extraordinary emotional heft without crossing into overbearing. The love motif starts with a few notes and builds into a gorgeous theme over the course of the romance, untraditional yet beautiful.

“Bones and All” is a disturbing watch, sometimes offering genuinely upsetting moments of body horror. This isn’t a horror movie by any means, but uses its cannibalistic tendencies to offer a grittier tale of otherness, empathizing with gay relationships in the 1980s or more forbidden intimacies. Under that brutality it’s simple and sweet. The audience might be niche, but I imagine it will reward that audience considerably.
 

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