When we think of horror films, there is often a feeling of edginesses and tension. Certain tropes and beats are used to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Though filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s latest movie, adapted from Camille DeAngelis’ novel of the same name, Bones and All, has horror elements, it subverts all of the traditions of the genre to offer something profoundly moving, gory, and rich.
The film opens in 1988 in rural Virginia. Maren (a mesmerizing Taylor Russell) has just moved to a small town with her quiet but slightly overbearing father (a criminally underused André Holland).
Nothing seems amiss in the father and daughter's bare-bones trailer home, but as the night grows dark, Maren slips out of her bedroom window, headed toward a new classmate's house for a sleepover.
A quiet evening of teen girl cattiness, snacks, and nail polish, quickly dissolves into madness when the soft-spoken baby-faced Maren takes a literal bite out of her newfound friend’s finger and flees from the home with her face caked in blood, her white pajamas covered in red spots. Thus begins the core narrative of Bones and All.
Much mystery is woven throughout the film, and we won’t spoil much here. However, we soon learn that Maren craves human flesh. For most of her life, especially after her mother abandoned them as a baby, she and her father have drifted across the country, hiding from the trails of bones and blood that Maren left behind. This time, Maren’s father has had enough. Leaving her with a wad of cash, her birth certificate, and the cassette tape chronicling her life from her first bite as a child, she embarks West, determined to find the mother who left her behind.
Frightened but desperate to get the answers she seeks, Maren crosses paths with an older gentleman named Sully (Mark Rylance), or more accurately, he sniffs her out. Though their time together is brief, he teaches her a thing or two about what it means to be an eater — specifically, that fellow eaters can smell each other.
Later, in a convenience store on the side of the road, she smells Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who offers her some very enticing leftovers.
Immediately drawn toward each other, from their shared condition to their familial trauma, the pair embark on an adventure to find Marien’s mother, encountering other eaters and some unsavory figures along the way.
As most lonely souls who are drawn together do, Maren and Lee begin to fall for one another, but they can’t seem to agree on who deserves to be eaten and who ought to be left alone. Moreover, a figure from Maren’s past comes back with a vengeance throwing everything the young couple has built off-kilter.
Though the gore in 'Bones and All' is genuinely horrific, it's about the only thing that feels familiar to the horror genre.
Instead, the film leans much more into a slow dramatic romance, held up by the stunning performances and chemistry between Russell and Chalamet. More still, as good as they are, it’s Rylance’s Sully who steals every scene he’s in. For those who can’t quite get into the horror elements, the mystery surrounding Maren’s past and the world of eaters will leave you enticed, even when the film’s tone becomes imbalanced.
Deeply intriguing, 'Bones and All' is nothing like one might expect, but in the end, you'll be glad you've devoured every bloody drop of it.
Bones and All premiered on Oct. 6, 2022 at the New York Film Festival. The film will debut in theaters Nov. 23.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in Netflix’s Tudum, EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum.