Young love often appears in the cinema as tender, idealistic and bittersweet, but it rarely terrifies and goes against the grain. In Bones and All, two young people brought together by their taste for human flesh hit all these notes in the best way possible.
Maren (Taylor Russell) is an 18-year-old living with her dad Frank (André Holland). Like a typical paranoid parent, he keeps her under lock and key, but there’s a reason for his overzealous attention. Maren is a cannibal, and her affliction keeps them on the run. Sneaking out one night to join her friends, Maren is overcome by her hunger, revealing her true nature and putting their lives in jeopardy, so Frank hastily initiates their escape to another state and yet another crummy apartment. The next morning, Maren finds herself alone, with just a cassette tape recording of her father’s apologetic explanation for leaving her, plus insight into their history.
Fueled by the information he provides, Maren buys a bus ticket to search for her mother, Janelle (Chloe Sevigny) and is surprised to be discovered by one of her kind, Sully (Mark Rylance). He is eager to show her the ways of cannibalism, and after a short stay with him, she finds a young man named Lee (Timothée Chalamet). He’s part of this hidden tribe too, and their blossoming love for each other takes them across the country as they feed on people, but Maren still wants to know what happened to Janelle. As they risk discovery with each person they devour, Maren’s quest for the truth makes her oblivious to a darker threat.
Films like We Are What We Are, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, He and She Never Died, Trouble Everyday, and Let the Right One In (both the film and TV series) capture humanity within solitary monstrous characters, giving a starkly beautiful portrait of people with otherworldly afflictions trying to pass as normal in society. Luca Guadagnino, who directed the 2018 Suspiria remake and Call Me By My Name, among others, creates a gorgeous atmospheric film about displaced travellers living just beyond the detection of “normal” folk. Based on the YA novel by Camille DeAngelis, who posits the argument for veganism as a subtext, these characters go undetected because they live in a class that doesn’t get much notice. They are young lovers who live in a destitute and dangerous world, especially for poor, nomadic people in the 80s, and especially for them, considering their hankering for eating other people. Yet, it’s the perfect place for them to hide in plain sight since poverty is right before our eyes while often staying invisible.
Bones and All is as much about class as young love within the genre arena. One of the ultimate taboos is cannibalism. Eating your own species is a no-no since it threatens the established patriarchal duties of humankind. We must reproduce and perpetuate our legacy to fulfill the capitalistic wheel of industry, which primarily consists of underpaid workers who make overpriced stuff for more bodies, that create more workers who need more stuff needed for more bodies, and so on. It’s a trap that Maren and Lee evade for a time, but Maren yearns for it since she carries guilt for her affliction, and their true nature denies them the comfort of being what society deems as “normal.” They could use money and power to hide their existence if they were rich, but these monsters are found on the fringe, without the opulence of a typically rich immortal, like a vampire. Their suppressed predatory nature—eating only when needed and primarily those who might threaten them—opposes capitalism’s unfettered forces, as those in power devour people and resources with no restraints (a concept that requires a whole other post for exploration). It’s no surprise this story takes place in the 80s— when capitalism was at its shiniest.
Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography is simple, bright and stark, capturing the sense of the times and the plight of have-nots across the US, anchored by the set and costume design that transports the audience to the realism of regular everyday people. Russell and Chalamet have great chemistry as two wispy youths on the lam, and Rylance’s performance is brilliant: charming and chilling all at once.
I’m surprised by how much I loved this film. Premiering at TIFF in 2022, It’s sweet, dark and an unexpected reflection of our society at large. Not one to be missed, even if there’s a chance the awards frenzy may overlook it.