Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers for the movie “Bones and All”.
Much like its predecessor “Twilight,” “Bones and All” attempts to be a romance, horror, and coming-of-age film all rolled into one, but falls short in any particular category.
The film, shot in Cincinnati and starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, is a macabre commentary on family, morality and identity with a cannibalistic subplot that only distracts from the real horror: the microphones Russell shots.
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The film, which will be released on Wednesday, November 23, was directed by Luca Guadagnino, making it his first collaboration with Chalamet since their 2017 film “Call Me by Your Name.” The 2022 release is also an adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis.
Set in the 1980s, “Bones and All” follows a biracial teenager named Maren (Russell), who moves from state to state with her father (Andre Holland) to overcome her unusual appetite for human flesh. After their latest move to Virginia, Maren reveals her bloodthirsty nature at a sleepover when she bites off one of the revelers’ fingers.
Distraught by her violent outburst, Maren runs to her father, who says they only have a few minutes to pack before disappearing into the night. Shortly after, on the morning of her 18th birthday, Maren wakes up to find that Holland has left her on her own, with only an 8-track audio tape and a small amount of money to remember him by.
After her father’s abandonment, Maren embarks on a journey to find her missing mother and uncover the roots of her cannibalistic desires. During this quest, she meets Lee (Chalamet) who says he will help her find her estranged mother. Struggling with his own parental conflicts, Lee is drawn to Maren not only because of their mom and dad issues, but because he too suffers from the same zombie compulsion as the film’s protagonist.
During their journey across the country, the two “eaters”, as they call themselves, feast on a crowd of unassuming individuals while falling deeply in love. However, the honeymoon period of their relationship comes to an abrupt halt when Maren finally reunites with her long-lost mother in a mental hospital. She is at first delighted to see darling mom, despite her current living conditions, until she is attacked by the woman who gave her life. Maren’s mother is also a “eater” who hates herself and wants her daughter dead to rid the world of her serial killer tendencies.
After his attack, Maren leaves town again, leaving Lee in his dust. She meets a creepy old manger named Sully (Mark Rylance) whom she met at the start of her journey. At this point, the film almost loses all direction until Maren realizes that self-loathing is for losers and reunites with Lee.
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After rekindling their passionate romance, Lee finally reveals to Maren the secret he’s been hiding for nearly four years: he ate his father. The decision to devour his next of kin came after a drunken attack from his father, another locked-in “eater”. Apparently, cannibalism is a trait inherited from this film.
At the end of the two hour and fifteen minute film, the two young vagabonds decide to settle in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A montage of happy moments ensues before the couple receives an impromptu visit from Sully, who tries to kill Maren for not wanting to be his friend? Honestly, the motivation for this sudden attack remains unclear to me.
But luckily for Maren, Lee comes to her rescue, fending off old Sully until he’s dead in their tub. But not before Lee is stabbed in the chest. Bleeding rapidly and fainting, he asks Maren one last request. You can probably guess where this is heading.
The 2022 film, “Bones and All,” is meant to be a social commentary on family and morality. Yet the end result is a cinematically beautiful, if gorier, version of the 2008 hit “Twilight.”
The late-decade sister film is a “high-end” imitation of the monster mating craze that swept the country in the early to mid-2000s. Despite its fine cinematography and cast list prominent, the film fails to replicate the same magic of the vampire franchise. It just doesn’t have that shine.
From the writing, plot, and performance, “Bones and All” takes itself a bit too seriously to be enjoyable. Billing itself as a coming-of-age romance horror film, the film fails to embody each category in any meaningful way.
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Maybe Guadagnino and his longtime collaborator, and University of Miami alum David Kajganich bit off more than they could chew, pun intended. Tackling the complexities of generational trauma, as it relates to the formation of one’s identity, is no small feat. But then you add the teen romance, the morality analysis, and a random Queer subplot and you have a film that suffers from its own ongoing identity crisis.
Of course, the movie had some interesting moments. For example, the audio recording of Maren’s father chronologically logging his carnivorous past. The inclusion of these scenes sets the tone of the film and provides much-needed context to our protagonist’s inclinations. The conversation in the woods between Maren, Lee and two other eaters, where we learn that feasting on humans can also be an acquired taste, was also quite intriguing.
But these moments are few and far between. What persists throughout the film are ominously crafted shots that fail to have any real impact on the viewer. Yes, Maren and Lee eat people, just like their parents, and they may or may not feel remorse for doing so, but what else? Is it wrong to eat people? Does it depend on the circumstances? Does it depend on who the person is? What are the rules?
These are the questions the Cincinnati-based film attempts to answer but only scratches the surface. Instead of engaging in this analysis, we get banal clichés of teenage melodrama that feels more like Wattpad fan fiction than a deep love story.
Beyond the “Bonnie and Clyde” spin-off storyline, Russell and Chalamet’s performances don’t do much to bring this lukewarm film to life. Their quiet, contemplative delivery, meant to embody the spirit of teenage angst, lacked the sincerity and emotional depth necessary to convey the internal struggles that plagued both of their characters.
As Slant Magazine reports, “Neither Russell nor the punk-clad Chalamet do much more than soft-talk and attractively pose, even when covered head-to-toe in arterial spray.” This assessment couldn’t be more accurate, even despite Chalamet’s charming dancing to KISS’ “Lick It Up.”
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What saves the film, however, is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ evocative score that emphasizes the film’s melancholic Midwestern emo roots. Fortunately, the film’s soundtrack reminds viewers that the film was shot in the area since the locally filmed feature had no recognizable scene in Cincinnati.
As a non-native Cincinnatian, I may have missed a reference. Feel free to leave us a comment and tell us if you saw any local spots in the film.
Despite its flaws, “Bones and All” is a beautifully brutal portrayal of teenage angst and the desire to define one’s identity on their terms. An ambitious attempt at gender bending, “Bones and All” seeks to uncover the impact of family trauma on a young adult. Although the film raised several unanswered questions, the most persistent theme is: do killers deserve to find love?