Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Guadagnino’s Bones and All

It is a condition some people just have to live with, like mental health issues or drug addiction. Unfortunately, it forces them to live secretive underground lives. They call themselves “eaters.” It would be ever so un-woke to call them cannibals, especially since they seem to have physical differences, like an enhanced sense of smell. Regardless, they need to eat people from time to time in Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, which opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Maren’s father is suspiciously protective, but she still manages to sneak out to her friend’s slumber party, where she eats a girl’s finger. Her dad is disappointed when she comes home all bloody, but he is used to moving suddenly in the dead of night. He is also sick of it, so he abandons her after their latest relocation. Suddenly left to her own devices, and since attending school is always a risky proposition for her, Maren sets out to find her mother, whom she assumes can explain just what she is.

On the road, she meets several fellow eaters. Sully is the first. The older man radiates bad vibes, but he teaches her how to use her heightened sense of smell to detect other eaters and regular humans who are on the verge of death. (Unlike Anne Rice vampires, eaters can feed off dead people just fine.) That is very helpful, but he is still all kinds of creepy, so she decides to tag-along with the punky Lee instead.

Lee definitely looks like a skinny heroin addict, but he is a scrappy survivor. Unlike Maren, he still tries to maintain some connection to his family, particularly his little sister Kayla, but he deems it necessary to disappear for long stretches of time, for obvious reasons.

Bones and All
just can’t decide if it is going to be a cheesy teen romance or cannibalistic horror movie. Frankly, the latter elements wok better. Probably the best scene in the film depicts a chance encounter with a rather sinister eater and his human-cannibal sidekick. It sort of had to be good, because that is where the title comes from.

However, the sloppy attempts to draw “born that way” eater analogies often blow-up in the film’s face, because Guadagnino’s visceral and entrails-filled eating scenes are so graphic and gory. Watching them chow down on intestines will convince most viewers young eaters really ought to be enrolled in Evangelical eater-conversion youth camps.

Nevertheless, Guadagnino vividly conveys a sense of Maren and Lee’s isolation. Clearly, Malick’s
Badlands was a major visual and thematic influence. It is even partially set in the Dakota Badlands, which serves the film well.

Sometimes the chemistry between Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet (as Maren and Lee) clicks and sometimes it clanks. Too often, the latter broods and poses like he is filming a Calvin Klein commercial. Frankly, his best scenes are with Anna Cobb, who is terrific as Kayla. The usually-reliable Mark Rylance is definitely unsettling playing Sully, but his Robin Hood cap and voluminous
Office Space-style “flair” makes him ridiculously conspicuous.

Given its YA novel source material,
Bones and All definitely surpasses expectations. Ironically, the film shows great empathy for the hardscrabble Middle American folk who co-exist with and are sometimes eaten by the eaters. In fact, Guadagnino’s use of fading physical snapshots as a motif to bear witness to the lives quietly ended is quite poignant. He just fumbles the balance between existential dread and romantic melodrama, sometimes letting the latter undermine the former. Granted, the final product is consistently interesting, but genre viewers can safely wait for streaming options, when Bones and All opens Friday (11/18) in theaters, including the AMC Lincoln Square.