"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Bones and All

note: This is a great fuckin movie and this review has spoilers, so if you’re planning on seeing it anyway, I suggest doing that first and coming back.

I’m not fully up on the films of director Luca Guadagnino. He’s done several I haven’t seen, including A BIGGER SPLASH, which I know some people love. I did see CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, which I didn’t officially review but did write a little about in a 2018 Oscar preview. I concluded that, “My main feeling about CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was that it was pretty good but just not for me. But I did continue thinking about different aspects of it for days afterward, making me think I liked it more than I realized at first.”

Since that was my only impression of Guadagnino it seemed kind of crazy that he was the one to finally do a remake of SUSPIRIA! Or as I called it in my review, “SUSPIRI… uh…”

Actually I liked that one, and will watch it again, though I didn’t understand what it was trying to say about German politics of the ‘70s. As I wrote in my review, “It is possible that this Italian director and American writer have something very important to say about the post-WWII generational shift that was happening in Germany when they were 6 and 8 years old, respectively, and that it adds greatly to the story of these dancing witches. If so it’s way over my head, so for me it dilutes what could be a far more intense experience if the horrific parts weren’t so spread out.”

With those mixed feelings in mind, I’m thrilled to say that Guadagnino’s new one BONES AND ALL is the first one I’ve seen by him that I unreservedly loved. This is another horror one that will get some of the more finicky genre purists in their feelings about it being pretentious or whatever, but I think it’s a real fuckin knockout. It’s a cannibal road movie romance. You’re gonna love it.

Poster for 2022 film BONES AND ALL by Luca Guadagnino.Actually “cannibal” doesn’t communicate it properly. It functions pretty much like a vampire story – most similar to NEAR DARK – but with no immortality or weakness for sun, and instead of drinking blood they chew the flesh off of people. They can go without it for a while, but they seem to need it to live. They don’t know why, and most of them don’t like it, but it’s a fact of their lives so they learn how to deal with it.

I really hope this played at some film festivals where people only knew it was the CALL ME BY YOUR NAME guy and nothing else. That would really give an extra kick to the excellent pre-credits sequence where Maren (Taylor Russell, ESCAPE ROOM) sneaks out of her trailer home at night to a girl from school’s slumber party. While their friends sample different nail polish colors they lay under the coffee table talking and leaning in closer and closer together in what seems to be sexual tension… but Maren’s version of making a pass is biting the girl’s finger all the way to the bone and ripping all the meat off, to her terrified screams.

Yeah, that explains why Maren’s dad (Andre Holland, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, MOONLIGHT) doesn’t let her go out. When she bangs on the door crying and covered in blood he immediately knows what’s up and is ready to skip town. He has long since understood this about her and tried to protect her, but it’s been long enough without an incident that she didn’t remember.

They find a new home in Maryland, but one day she discovers her dad is gone, leaving her an envelope of cash, her birth certificate, and a Maxell cassette tape of him explaining to her everything he knows about her situation. She puts it in her Walkman and listens to it a bit at a time, so it acts as narration and backstory spread across the first half or so of the film.

Maren knows nothing about her mother, whose maiden name and town of birth are listed on the certificate. If she’s still alive, maybe she knows something about Maren’s condition. So she decides to take the Greyhound across the country to look for her.

When Maren is spending the night outside a bus station in Ohio, a weirdo named Sully (Mark Rylance, BLITZ, BRIDGE OF SPIES, DUNKIRK, READY PLAYER ONE) tentatively approaches. He calls her an “eater,” says he’s one too, says he could smell her from blocks away. He swears he won’t hurt her, because you “never eat an eater,” brings her to his house nearby, starts advising her about her new lifestyle while preparing some cornish hens. But slowly she realizes that this is not his house. The owner is an old lady who’s upstairs, alive but on the floor, immobile and wheezing. Sully sniffed her out and has been waiting for her to die so he can eat her. And he insists Maren should get in on that action, since you can’t always do it this ethically.

I get the feeling Sully is gonna be kinda like Rose the Hat from DOCTOR SLEEP – not a household name or a popular Halloween costume or anything, but remembered by some of us as One of the Great Characters. At the very least he’s the queasiest and most unusual movie creep I’ve seen in a long time. Rylance adjusts his mumbly soft-spoken strangeness a couple degrees over from its usual trajectory to make it gross instead of cute. He reminds me of a combination of every socially awkward eccentric I’ve known from my days working retail, with so much detail to his quirks: the long feather on his hat, the braided ponytail, the jacket covered in pins and brooches (mostly butterfly-shaped), the toothpicks he chews on, the fishing vest with various tools attached and bulging pockets, the knife on his belt, the pointy leather sandals, the referring to himself in the third person, the way he sort of waddles with his butt sticking out, the nasty teeth, and one very upsetting instance of drooling. The most disturbing part of the scene where he eats the freshly dead grandma is not that he crawls on all fours and chews at her belly, but that he does it in in his tighty whiteys with his ass in the air and his droopy balls bulging. Reminds me of the infamous short shorts of my middle school wrestling coach. Sully is the B.F.G. – the Ball Flaunting Guy.

And I’m not gonna say what it is, but when he goes to his bag and shows Maren what he does to commemorate each of his victims that’s some imaginatively bizarre business.

He wants to be her mentor but he creeps her out, so she wisely slips off and catches that bus the next morning. There could potentially be a suspenseful scene where she sneaks away and he almost sees her, or does and gives chase. Guadagnino chooses the much more powerful approach of just showing him through the bus window on the sidewalk as it pulls out. I can practically feel the heat on Maren’s face when she sees him seeing her, a betrayed “what the fuck?” look on his face.

So now she knows that she’s an eater and that there are other eaters out there. She runs into her second one the same week. While shoplifting hygiene products from a convenience store she makes eye contact with Lee (Timothee Chalamet, HOSTILES), sees him lure a drunk asshole outside, waits across the street as he eats the guy in a condemned building. I love how she approaches and talks to Lee like a kid awkwardly trying to make a friend at a new school. Which is pretty much what she is. He seems possibly annoyed at first but lets her leave with him in the dead guy’s truck, going to the address on his driver’s license (because there are no photos in his wallet and the lights are off). So we get to see Lee’s methods.

They hit it off enough that they decide to road trip together to her mom’s home town in Minnesota. Along the road they get to know each other and we slowly learn about Lee’s family situation. He drives back to Kentucky to visit his little sister Kayla (Anna Cobb, WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR), who doesn’t know the real reason he left town. He loves her even though she tells him his shirt makes him look like a f-g, a comment that takes on more meaning in a later scene where he hunts a carnival worker (Jake Horowitz, THE VAST OF NIGHT) by cruising him.

Chalamet continues to be impressive in every role. It’s kind of cool that it’s the reverse of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – he’s the confident veteran showing the newbie the ropes. Lee’s kind of a wiry, ratty looking guy with ugly cut off jeans and hand tattoos, but also a total charmer. A sincere one. There’s a dynamic that Maren feels much more guilt about killing people, but he never seems like an evil seducer trying to corrupt her. More like a pragmatist. He knows it’s not good what they do, but doesn’t know another option, and doesn’t want her to feel bad about it.

I was not familiar with Russell, so she seems like an amazing discovery. Her huge eyes and high voice read as vulnerable, so she seems very brave when she stands up for herself. Russell is 28, but she really looks like a teenager, so maybe that helps her to be convincing as this baby thrown into a dangerous new world and managing to hold her own.

Yes, it reminds me of NEAR DARK, but since they’re not vampires there’s more sunshine. Guadagnino (who, it hadn’t occurred to me, had never shot an American movie before) captures the beauty of the open road and of little diners in small towns, and also very authentic living situations in different types of homes, from the depressing alcoholic heavy metal fan Lee ate to a comfy college-town apartment they legitimately rent when they decide “Let’s be people. Let’s be them for a while.” The ‘80s period soundtrack provides some synth, but the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is focused on pretty acoustic guitars – more like wistful Clint Eastwood than Tangerine Dream gloom.

Of course, the lyrical beauty and youthful passions are never far away from dread and transgression, and when it’s feeding time they’re not fuckin around. It’s different, but the only thing I can think to compare it to is RAW. The violence is never pretty, always messy, always nasty. I was surprised to learn that the Camille DeAngelis book this is adapted from is considered “young adult.” I wonder if this is the most intense adaptation of a YA novel? It’s rated R for “strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity.” In my day we had Judy Blume.

The credits surprised me because there are three actors I like in the cast but I didn’t recognize them: Sean Bridgers (THE WOMAN), Chloe Sevigny (THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO), and Jessica Harper (SUSPIRIA – the original one). I did, however, recognize the director of a recent controversial horror movie I liked (I better – he wrote the introduction to Seagalogy). I didn’t expect that! Interestingly, he was attached to a remake of SUSPIRIA for a while before Guadagnino did it. Is that how they met?

Anyway, my point is that this cast includes a Timothée, an André and a Chloë.

I continue to believe 2022 is an unusually strong year for horror. So far my favorites have been PEARL, BARBARIAN, HALLOWEEN ENDS, WATCHER, PREY, TERRIFIER 2, THE BLACK PHONE, and DARK GLASSES, (plus CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, if you want to classify it as horror), and I also enjoyed TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, X, SCREAM, HELLRAISER, MEN, BODIES BODIES BODIES, NOPE, and ORPHAN: FIRST KILL. It’s too soon to know, but right now I think BONES AND ALL could end up being my favorite of all of them. At any rate, it’s a special one.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5th, 2022 at 7:15 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Bones and All”

  1. Is it weird I didn’t twig that this was an 80s period piece from the trailers? I just figured the lack of modernity was down to the largely rural setting and what I assume were some A24-ish leanings.

    But year I liked it. It’s engaging in both the horror and drama aspects, and the main players all do well. Though I’ve seen people say the movie is supposed to be an LGBT+ allegory, and if that’s true, I don’t know exactly what it’s trying to say and if that should be considered offensive. I also dunno how it sits with me that it kinda makes cannibals into a fictional species. Cannibalism is a real thing, it’s not like vampires or werewolves, and while I think it’s okay to conceive a fictional culture for them, with their rules and social interaction, stuff like being able to smell each other from miles away feels a bit too far.

  2. My 13-year-old niece expressed wanting to see this (she has feelings for Chalamet like most 13-year-old straight females). Normally, I’m like “sure, don’t tell your mom”. However, I know someone who saw an early screening in like September who told me there’s a couple WAY gross parts.

    Now, it’s not like I’d be taking her to see Terrifier 2, but it has given me pause, as I don’t want to be the one responsible for traumatizing her. That said, everyone I’ve talked to in the past couple weeks has been “Yeah, naturally it’s got some gross shit. But nothing crazy” So, maybe they cut the WAY gross shit for rating.

    I dunno… I’m glad I don’t have kids. This shit gives one a headache

  3. It’s mainly more disturbing than super gory, but the part with the carnival worker has an element to it that I wouldn’t want to be watching sitting next to a relative, especially a minor.

  4. My initial thought was that this is way too much for most 13 year olds, but then I realized I saw HELLRAISER around that age, so who knows. But I think at the very least you would’ve been really uncomfortable and worried you made the wrong choice. Depending on the kid it’s unlikely she’s seen anything that intense, and there are some things she probly doesn’t want to see her sweet, sweet Timothee doing.

  5. but the part with the carnival worker has an element to it that I wouldn’t want to be watching sitting next to a relative, especially a minor.

    Eh, sexual content I don’t really care about. At this point, she’s probably waist deep in personal sexual content, so I doubt any fictitious depictions will blow her mind (unless it’s some crazy Nekromantik shit).

    If it’s nothing worse than Hellraiser, it’ll be fine. You tend to forget that kids nowadays walk into the room while mom and dad are watching The Walking Dead when they’re six. Gore and graphic shit used to be WAY more walled off than it is now. CBS plays the “Women Abducted and Graphically Assaulted and Tortured Hour” (aka Criminal Minds) in prime time…

  6. And just completely selfishly speaking, I want to see it.
    If I do, and don’t take her, she’ll be all pissed off. This way, everyone’s happy…

  7. It’s hard to forget sometimes that just because WE weren’t grossed out or traumatized by being exposed to some gory shit in the movies when we were young, it doesn’t mean no kid will be grossed out or traumatized.

    That said: You know her, jojo, we don’t. However, 13 isn’t 5. My recommendation is just telling her: “Hey, I heard this movie is at times extremly gross and bloody, you still wanna see it?” and if she says “yes”, then just go for it.

  8. I respect the hell out of your opinion, Vern and you’ve made me more curious to check this out than anyone else. But… it just sounds a little too gross for me, think I’m gonna need to pass on this one.

  9. Jesus, I just had a disturbing nightmare about Sully and I haven’t even SEEN this. That’s fucked up. Good job, Vern!

  10. Life’s never dully with Sully!

  11. When I was younger, I used to ‘collect’ scenes of men dancing by themselves. Just mentally file them away, really, as an interesting film motif. I guess I fell out of the practice over the years as those kinds of scenes dried up or became less inspired or poetic or something. But not only did Timothee Chalamet dancing to “Lick it Up” remind me of that old habit of mine, he shot right up into the Hall of Fame with Gary Oldman in ROMEO IS BLEEDING and Bill Pullman in NERVOUS TICKS. For a kid that wasn’t even alive when that song was recorded, he sure convinced me that he loved the ever-lovin’ hell out of it.

    Anyway, this is prolly the best movie I’ve seen all year. I’ve spent over half of it in dumbshit Arkansas, so the pickings have been pretty slim compared to Austin, but still. I was, of course, thinking of NEAR DARK for pretty much the entire running time but the very last shot of the film made me realize that this may have even more in common with BADLANDS than the fuckin’ ’80s vampire movie. Still, tho, I think it’s pretty easy to draw a line from one to the next to this one.

    And good lord am I glad that Rylance already has his Oscar so he can feel free to let it all hang out-in any and every way-in roles like Sully in movies like this. What a character. Now I want a prequel all about Sully so we can see how he got to be the fabulous weirdo he was in this movie. Maybe Sam Rockwell could play Young Sully and throw in a little solo dance number for me.

  12. Watched this last night, and loved it. 2022 was one hell of a year, but at least for movies I mean that in a completely positive way. This would easily make the top ten, top five probably.

    God, Sully. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone be as convincingly as creepy as him in a very long time. Vern, your acronym for BFG made me do a literal spit take.

    I thought the ‘famous controversial director’ playing a part was cast because BONES AND ALL is, I thought recognizably modelled on his early work. Which in turn was inspired by Malick, as Jerome pointed out above. Shit, I’ve given away who he is now, haven’t I? SPOILERS and all that.

    I loved the… mythology, I guess, for the eaters. Very vampire-adjacent, but they did enough to make it feel deep enough to make them not a clear-cut allegory, and their own distinct thing from both vampires and garden-variety cannibals (and I love that they put one of those in; and Maren’s reaction to it was inspired!) Things like the explanation for the movie’s title or Sully’s methods for feeding, that kind of thing. If nothing else I’d treasure the movie just for that; how often is it done this successfully?

    The guy who wrote the script for this also adapted Dan Simmon’s THE TERROR as an excellent miniseries, which helps explain why the character work in this is so damn good. I’m not surprised it’s based on a YA novel – they can and do get extremely dark (Patrick Ness has one I read with my son that didactically shows how someone -a point-of-view character, no less- could come to collaborate with a nazi-like institution, to the point of becoming one of their torturers.)

    @Jojo: Did you take her to see it in the end? And what did she think?
    I’m not sure if I’d recommend it to a 13yo, I think kids would find this alternatively boring and terrifying. And there’s some nightmarishly creepy and intense scenes here. Plus, the romance is very underplayed – I mean, it’s romantic as hell, but it focuses more on their connection than on the standard romantic signifiers.

    And bless, I’ve just realized the Russell and Chalamet make a heart on the poster. Awwwww.

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