Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) are “eaters’, born with an affliction that compels them to eat human flesh. But, hey, don’t go jumping to conclusions: they're not crazed beasts or mindless zombies, jumping on everyone they see – they’re nice cannibals. Their appetites are not quite uncontrollable and they feel bad, dude. They're victims of their own biology, wrestling with the moral dilemmas that come with chomping on old folk, or killing to feed their habit, and the outsider lifestyle that they’re forced into as a result.
From this weird premise, against all the odds, Luca Guadagnino’s movie is horrific, weirdly moving and sometimes funny.
A few years ago the filmmaker Walter Hill (opens in new tab) talked about a story-telling trick he lived by: you should always tell a new story in an old way, he said, and an old story in a new way. In many ways, Bones And All is a really old story: star-crossed lovers on the run, forced to live on the edge of society. It could easily have been a vampire movie like Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant 1987 debut. But it would’ve, like, sucked. We’re used to vampire stories and, post-Twilight, the romantic vampire story feels played out.
It could have been about drug addicts (like Drugstore Cowboy (opens in new tab), Gus Van Sant’s 1989 movie starring Matt Dillon about chemist-robbing junkies who prowl the US) or murderers (like, say, Bonnie and Clyde (opens in new tab), 1967, Badlands (opens in new tab), 1973, or Natural Born Killers (opens in new tab), 1994).
Bones And All has a lot in common with all of those movies, as well as with Nomadland, The Florida Project, American Honey, more recent films about people on the fringes of American society, hanging on by their fingertips to survive. But this time, those people are cannibals – conflicted, traumatized cannibals – and that twist makes it fresh. Not a straight-up horror movie, it prowls the fringes of dirty realism, black comedy and serial killer thriller without ever settling for any of them.
If it sounds vaguely ridiculous, the performances are astonishing. Chalamet you know, but Russell is the movie’s star. Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg turn in creepy-AF turns as fellow eaters considerably more at ease with the idea of killing their meals. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack swells with romance and pulses with stomach-churning unease. And a scene in which Chalamet discovers Kiss’s Lick It Up album in the collection of one of their, er, dinners – and dances around the room to it – is a great piece of tension-cutting relief.
Chalamet says the scene itself turned him on to hair metal. “I didn’t grow up in that era, so I’ll piss a lot of people off by saying that I fully get it,” he told the Toronto Sun. “But I’ve done a deep dive on stadium rock or hair rock ’n’ roll. It started with this movie, and then it continued.
“I was at a bar in New York in the spring and on the jukebox there was a bunch of Bob Dylan that I was playing and then somebody was disgruntled about it and they went over to and proclaimed, ‘It’s time for some Mötley Crüe!’ Now I’m a Mötley Crüe fan.”
Now that's properly horrific.