The work of the Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino has long been a feast for the eyes.
Films such as “I Am Love”, “A Bigger Splash” and “Call Me By Your Name” explored burning passions in the sun-drenched coastal towns of Italy, bathing stone houses and lush greenery in a golden glow. A pivot occurred in 2018 with his remake of the 1970s horror classic “Suspiria”, replacing the landscape of sunny Italy with gray Berlin and the passion with what turned out to be an incredible eye for horrifically violent images. In his latest film, ‘Bones And All’, Guadagnino fuses his visions of summer love with horror to create what may be one of the most wonderful films about cannibalism ever to exist.
Aside from Guadagnino’s usual European settings, ‘Bones And All’ travels across Central America in the 80s; his beloved golden hour light bathes the vast green plains of this new location – beautifully captured by cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan.
The story is based on the young adult novel by American author Camille DeAngelis and follows teenager Maren (played by Taylor Russell). She and her father (Andre Holland) roam the country, escaping whenever Maren succumbs to her uncontrollable taste for human flesh. On her 18th birthday, Maren is abandoned by her father, left with a tape message from him and a birth certificate revealing the identity of her long-lost mother, leading to a cross-country journey to discover more about her cursed appetite.
As Maren travels, she meets other ‘eaters’, as they call themselves, and learns that she can also smell other ‘eaters’ (a twisted subversion of the ‘gifted young adult protagonist’ trope). Other “eaters” include “Halloween” director David Gordon Green and returning Guadagnino collaborators Chloe Sevigny and Michael Stuhlbarg, each unrecognizable and giving memorable performances in their brief scenes. A standout performance comes from Oscar-winning English actor Mark Rylance as the ominous people-hungry Sully, who kindly tries to mentor Maren in cannibalism. Beneath a slightly raspy accent, Rylance eschews prominent caricatures for personality with some interesting mannerisms, from quirky catchphrases like “life ain’t boring with Sully” to showing how long he’s been feasting on people by putting down a plastic. sheets before he starts partying.
As expected from a cannibal film, there is plenty of gore that is sure to turn some stomachs, with some scenes much more detailed than others. As shown in “Suspiria,” Guadagnino has a flair for horror and presenting it in interesting ways, and that gift is on display in “Bones And All.” While not as inventively disturbing as the previous film’s bone-breaking dance sequence, the sound of flesh being chewed as the camera hovers over the victim’s close-up family portrait is a brilliantly cinematic way to add emotional impact to such unsettling scenes.
Although there is plenty of meat to be eaten, the beating heart of the film is the romance between Russell’s Maren and fellow eater Lee, played by Timothee Chalamet. Chalamet, like Rylance, has moments that stand out—particularly one when he lets loose to a KISS song that’s interrupted by the sight of his blood-stained reflection. But together, Russell and Chalamet have a sincere chemistry, depicting a blossoming romance and all its subtleties, from the first nervous banter and inside jokes, to moments of rawness and vulnerability when they both finally commit to someone who understands them.
‘Bones And All’ is an acquired taste that is unlikely to appeal to a wide audience, but those with strong stomachs will be rewarded with a rich and complex piece of cinema to enjoy.
“Bones And All” is in theaters now.