I can’t remember the last time I turned on a movie as quickly and virulently as I did on Bones and All, a lovers-on-the-run movie with a light horror glaze from director Luca Guadagino. Adapting the YA novel by Camille DeAngelis, Guadagino fuses the seemingly incongruent moods of his earlier Call Me By Your Name’s youthful romance and Suspiria’s doomy horror – a mix that doesn’t sound like it should work, yet for long stretches, it does. Until it hits that climax. Hew boy.
It starts out as a high-school movie, and Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) is one of those perpetually new and awkward kids. “You said you wanna make more friends here,” a kind friend (one of her few) reminds her, inviting her over for a slumber party; they lay on the floor and paint nails and talk about boys as Duran Duran plays on the radio (it’s a mid-‘80s period piece), and then, well, Maren tries to bite off her friend’s finger. The reveal is superb, clever and horrifying; Maren, you see, is a cannibal, a deep and dark secret that she usually manages to keep hidden. She hurries home, covered in blood. Her father (André Holland) tells her to pack, and quickly: “When the cops get here we have to be good and gone.”
Soon enough, her frightened father is good and gone himself (“I gotta leave you to figure it out for yourself, like your mother did”). He leaves her birth certificate, which has the name and hometown of her mother – who abandoned her before she even remembers – so she decides to try to find her. She’s barely begun her journey when she encounters Sully (Mark Rylance, making some CHOICES), a wistful fella with medals on his coat, a feather in his hat, and a mouthful of gnawed-up chompers. “I smelt you from the yahd, lil’ missy,” he tells her with a terrifying grin. “When was the last time you fed?”
She starts to learn the ropes of roving hobo cannibal life from Sully, but (wisely) parts company with him quickly; not long after, she meets Lee (Timotheé Chalamet), another, younger cannibal, and handsome too, which doesn’t hurt. “I don’t wanna hurt nobody,” she insists; he replies, “Famous last words,” and soon they’re hustling and grinding and squatting their way across the country, and falling into something like love, that specific kind of young love where it seems like you’re the only two people in the world, except, in this case, even more so.
Russell and Chalamet are good together – the way they create the clumsy inevitability of a first kiss is especially memorable – but this is very much her movie, her journey, with him sidelined in several key scenes. She’s a real find; you can’t catch her acting, in scenes where she’s doing quite a lot of it, intermingling desperation and guilt and desire and fear. Most of the rest of the cast amount to guest appearances, but good ones: Chloe Sevigny does some remarkable things with her tiny bit of time, Michael Stuhlbarg is barely recognizable in a wonderful little character turn, Holland is used too briefly but quite effectively, and perhaps the best byproduct of Jessica Harper’s stunt casting in the Suspiria remake is her subtly wonderful scene as a grandmother with secrets (and a bang-on Minnesota accent).
Bones and All boasts a clever sound design (though Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is surprisingly monotonous), and doesn’t scrimp on the mighty convincing gore. Guadagino again proves quite adept at staging striking compositions, creepy set pieces, moments of pitch-black comedy, and vivid flashes of memory and nightmares. It’s 130 minutes, and most of it clicks right along.
That is, until it reaches the third act, which feels more than a little aimless – once certain business is put to bed, there’s not much momentum to keep the narrative going. But that wandering is miles better than the jarring thriller climax that feels like it was air-dropped in out of a slasher movie – and a bad one. The action eventually works its way into a bathtub, which seemed too conscious to be coincidence, since you have to go all the way back to Fatal Attraction to find a good movie that shits the bed this spectacularly in the home stretch.
And that’s too bad, because Guadagino is a good director with a feel for this material. It takes real skill to pull off the delicate emotions of their last, big, confessional dialogue scene, to balance everything that’s come before and pull it together, and that is accomplished. If he’d had the good sense to end the movie there, they might have really had something.
“Bones and All” is now playing in limited release. It goes wide on Thanksgiving.