In a film that tackles young people dealing with both their emerging relationship and their life-defining need to consume human flesh, Bones and All is an endearingly charming – if not left-of-centre – depiction of the awkwardness and fumbling nature of a first relationship.
Maren (Taylor Russell) leads a sheltered life in a nondescript town, and when she sneaks out at night to go to a friend’s sleepover, apart from the external lock that her father (André Holland) clicks shut on her door at night, she could be any other teenager. When she bites the finger off a young girl at the said sleepover, the film dives headfirst into its intriguing premise. Shortly after, her father leaves her with nothing but a cassette tape explaining her history of cannibalism and why he had to go and her birth certificate, naming her mother for the first time.
Determined to pick at this thread of her life that has been a mystery for as long as she can remember, Maren sets off on a cross-country journey. She meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a fellow “eater” whose cocky confidence quickly captures her interest.
Together they embark on this journey of self-discovery, crossing state lines without acknowledging them, the radio blaring out unnerving, disembodied voices talking about black tar, sneaking glances out of the corner of their eyes at the other’s profile.
They make a beautiful, believable couple – talking over each other, fumbling their words, and declarations of affection without a hint of the self-doubt that settles in with age. Chalamet nails the arrogance and openness of youth – Lee is brash to Maren’s meek, and he dances jerkily to Lick It Up by Kiss “from before the makeup” – aware her eyes are on him and exaggerating his nonchalance. His arms and torso fling about with exaggerated confidence, his voice slightly too calm to disguise his nervousness and lack of certainty.
While Chalamet has the star power, Taylor Russell’s stillness captures attention. She is naive, unsure of herself, but full of quiet determination in her own set of morals as she tries to unravel the mystery that has led her to this life, wandering and hungry in early adulthood. It is the scenes with the damaged, unnerving Sully (Mark Rylance, holding his jaw tight and gritting out a Southern accent) where her understated, unshowy skills blossom: she lowers her voice, disappears into herself in favour of a placating calmness that is ingrained into so many young women when faced with a dangerous man.
There’s a wonderful listlessness to Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal road movie – there is movement but without much direction – time passes, and states are crossed without much fanfare, indicated by superimposed text that flashes in the middle of the screen without consistency, faded like watermarks on a paparazzi photo. It’s the only thing that disrupts the hazy, Badlands-esqe vistas of mottled pink and purple skies, the endless stretches of American landscapes that pass in the background.
Maren and Lee don’t eat each other, but they do devour each other – sinking their teeth into the only solidity they can eke out of an uncertain life as they strive to discover whether this love will set them free.
Bones and All opened in theatres on November 23
by Rose Dymock