Bones and All Review: Timothée Chalamet in a YA Cannibal Road Movie

In vampire movies, from Nosferatu to the Twilight movies to Only Lovers Left Alive, blood sucking is usually about more than blood sucking—it’s about sex, addiction, power—and that’s why the main event in a vampire movie doesn’t play Role. It doesn’t have to be the literal spectacle of watching fangs tear into human flesh. The elegance of the genre is that it has a built-in metaphorical flourish. Bones and All, Luca Guadagnino’s YA road movie about a couple of lost souls who happen to be cannibals (based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis), is a film in which the characters act a lot like vampires. They blend in with society, but they are truly a breed in their own right, with the ability to smell fresh meat (and each other) and a consuming desire to “eat”.

In this case, however, the feedings are not as stimulating as in a vampire movie. We see the characters ripping into bodies and chewing, the flesh falling off in chunks, blood splattering everywhere. When they finish eating, it will look like a serial killer has been there. If that sounds a bit grotesque, it is; I found the scenes garish and uncomfortable. But the ultimate reason they’re not fun to go through is that cannibalism has no higher (or lower) meaning in this film, no meaning beyond itself. It means nothing… not at all. The characters may act like flesh-hungry zombies for a few moments, but they aren’t zombies. They are meant to be sexy, personable and relatable. How does it fit into watching them eat other people? Beats me.

It might sound like “Bones and All” is some sort of horror fantasy, and if the film is released by MGM on Thanksgiving weekend (which is either a very clever bit of counter-programming or a marketing executive’s brainchild of a bad joke), the best Chances of it hitting the box office are likely if it’s sold as a horror film. Yet however it’s marketed, what audiences will discover is that for all its Guignol swagger, “Bones and All” is one of the sketchiest, emptiest, meandering road movies in memory. The film is two hours and 10 minutes long, and despite the historical snag of its 1988 setting, almost nothing interesting happens in it. It’s spreading across the US and the imagery has the sensuality of a travelogue, but Bones and All is a concept that begs for a story. The film doesn’t pull us in. He stumbles and staggers and seems to recover over time. You may feel eaten alive with boredom.

Taylor Russell, an expressively melancholy actor who was one of the stars of “Waves,” plays 18-year-old Maren, who we meet while still living in a trailer with her father (André Holland) and trying to fit in recent transplant high school student. She sneaks out to attend a sleepover where the main event is trying on different colors of nail polish. This seems to be going well until Maren grabs the finger of one of her classmates and proceeds to bite it through, the finger barely dangling from his hand.

When she gets home, her father jumps into damage control mode and tries to chase her away before the police get there. But he’s had enough. Maren soon finds herself abandoned, with a tape from Papa explaining exactly who she is and why he can’t stay longer and try to protect her from himself.

Left to her own devices, Maren encounters another cannibal, a gothic eccentric named Sully, played by Mark Rylance (in the film’s catchiest performance), who wears a single-feather hat and a long braided ponytail, and in a delicate Deep South drawl speaks. Sully tells Maren he can smell her; That’s how he knows she’s part of the cannibal tribe. And he wastes no time leading her to feast in a scene of upper chaos that looks set to get four stars from Charles Manson. After decades of reviewing over-the-top horror, I find I suddenly sound very moral about the gore in Bones and All, but that’s only because I’ve kept asking myself: What’s the point? The film shouldn’t scare us. And since the characters themselves don’t find their cannibalism gross (the title describes the highest level of cannibalism: eating everything, including the bones), the fact that we viewers do it doesn’t exactly invite us to identify with them . The problem with these scenes is that we’re looking in from the outside.

Maren is hiding in a supermarket when she catches the eye of Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who turns out to be a chivalrous soul, not to mention the trendiest dressed cannibal in civilization’s history. Before this week, Maren had never met another cannibal; Now she just met two of them (and counting). If that sounds a bit improbable, the bottom line is that the screenplay of Bones and All by David Kajganich (who co-wrote Gaudignino’s Suspiria and A Bigger Splash) doesn’t rely heavily on logic or consistency. It’s a catch-as-catch-can script that has resulted in a film’s random wandering.

Chalamet does a cute job dancing in a bedroom to Kiss’ “Lick It Up” — he’s like a hopping scarecrow — and he rolls along with his shaggy, youthful charisma. But in this case there is a danger; his performance gets stuck between sincerity and pose. This is the first time that Chalamet’s post-modern clotheshorse persona, always so captivating on red carpets, defines the character he plays more than anything else he does. His hair is cut in a mullet, with copper-orange streaks, and his brimmed fedora, white necklace, patterned shirts that are worn unbuttoned, pierced ears (completely anachronistic for the era) and the showpiece – a pair of jeans with holes in knees so big there are more holes than jeans – he’s certainly playing a new screen guy: the too-grungy-for-school neo-James Dean carnivore fashionista.

Maren and Lee fall in love (sort of), but mostly she’s looking for her backstory. She wants to find her mother and finds out that she too was a cannibal. But even with the impressive Chloë Sevigny playing the mother as the insane who ate her own hands, the encounter doesn’t become too much. A few other good actors show up: Michael Stulhbarg, cast as a grinning hillbilly in overalls against the guy, and Jessica Harper, narrowly convincing as Maren’s adoptive grandmother. And then they’re gone. There is also a strange encounter between Lee and the circus worker he arranges to meet near a cornfield. The victim thinks it’s a date – and indeed there is a longer shot of Lee pleasing his victim before eating him. But since that’s the only sex scene in the film, we wonder: Why is he doing this? Does Maren consider this a betrayal? (Note to the screenwriter: we could have used an actual line of dialogue there.)

Maren and Lee wander from state to state, and the way Guadagnino shows each location in oversized letters on the screen – Virginia! Kentucky! – it’s like he’s driving the conspiracy by telling us where we are. But sorry, there is no plot. Did the slick filmmaker of Call Me By Your Name really think there was such a thing? In “Bones and All” there is only the sullen uniformity of a cool, doomed attitude. Bones and All Review: Timothée Chalamet in a YA Cannibal Road Movie

Charles Jones

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