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.
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.