Cannibals in love are uncomfortable but well trodden territory in horror. From Claire Denis' masterpiece of desire Trouble Every Day to the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies. In Bones and All, the cannibals are two young loners feeling their way through desire, love and belonging. Director Luca Guadagnino imbues his adaptation of Camille DeAngelis's YA novel with the same breezy warmth of Call Me By Your Name.
Backdropped against Reagan’s ’80s, it has 18-year-old Maren (Taylor Russell) carrying a burden too large to share at a sleepover. Since infancy, she’s had a barely-contained urge to, well, chomp on human flesh. Everytime it get the best of her and an attack happens, she and her father (André Holland) have had to pack up and move. When we meet them, this routine of self-imposed exile has become too much for him to bear, and he abandons Maren with a small wad of cash, her birth certificate and a cassette explaining why he’s bailed.
Alone – and hungry – Maren sets out on the American road, encountering fellow ‘Eaters’ with the same primal urges as her for the first time. First comes the quirky but menacing Sully (Mark Rylance, chewing scenery); then the willowy, existentially disenfranchised Lee (Timothée Chalamet). Drawn together by circumstance, a shared dietary requirement, and an awkward attraction, they take to the road to find Maren’s biological mother.
Is a heartthrob still a heartthrob if he’s soaked in blood? Here, the answer is yes
The film flows like a Joy Division song: moody and ethereal until it escalates into a burst of sonic violence. Guadagnino treats the gore in Bones and All like a grotesque necessity. There’s no enjoyment here; no revelling in the carnage. The killing and devouring of flesh is a practicality, and one that Maren and Lee avoid as much as possible.
Bones and All is Guadagnino’s second foray into horror after his 2018’s Suspiria remake, and it’s an altogether more relatable story of outsiders connecting. The beauty he finds in the savagery of these two outsiders’ affliction merges with the sweetness of a story of first love. Is a heartthrob still a heartthrob if he’s soaked in blood? Here, the answer is yes.
In US and UK cinemas Nov 23.