The actor reunites with him ‘Call Me By Your Name‘ director for this horror/road movie romance, but it’s his co-star who will most likely take your breath away.
UNTIL SOMEONE BITES ANOTHER PERSON’S FINGER OFF, IT’S ALWAYS FUN AND GAMES.
To be fair, Maren — Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All’s teenage hero, one half of the film’s red-hot killing pair, our tour guide to ’80s Rust Belt America, and the part that formally certifies actress Taylor Russell as a best-of-generation candidate — has eaten human flesh before.
Her tastes are said to have expressed themselves when she was three years old, and her father (Andre Holland) has been shepherding Maren about from city to city and state to state ever since.
Things had been calm in Virginia for a long time until she slips away one night to attend a sleepover with some fellow high school kids, and Duran Duran is playing on the stereo, and there’s an amazing amount of sexual tension between Maren and the host of the festivities. I mean, the girl’s finger was practically touching her mouth. Habits die hard…
This lovely young cannibal finds herself on her alone shortly after her father and daughter depart to Maryland, with nothing except a lot of cash, a cassette-tape confessional from Dad, and a birth certificate.
We ride shotgun with Maren as she goes over a landscape of burnt Reagan-era soil, as we did in Camille DeAngelis’ young-adult novel of the same name. Much to her astonishment, she is not the only one burdened with this ailment; there is a loose, dispersed group of people known as “eaters,” who reside on the outskirts of society and indulge in the sly.
Maren’s early meetings with potential instructors and peers in all matters of forbidden gastronomy range from questionable to scary, and include a hippyish fellow traveler named Sully who teaches her a few feasting life hacks. (He’s portrayed by Mark Rylance, who has officially cornered the market on Earth-Mother predators and adopts a lisping accent that is far too similar to this man for comfort.)
So Maren floats through the Midwest, dried blood smears on her fingertips and her gaze fixed on the prize of knowledge about her long-missing mother. Then, one day, she comes upon Lee at a busy grocery store on the wrong side of town (Timothee Chalamet).
Or, more accurately, she “smells” him, as eaters have a habit of sniffing each other out. This whippet-thin dirtbag dreamboat confronts a belligerent jerk who is bothering customers and evidently looking for a fight. Lee asks him to play outside. And she knows she’s discovered a kindred soul even before she sees him leave an abandoned building, his mouth scarlet.
Lee invites her to join along for the voyage over pancakes the next morning – real pancakes, not Homo sapiens-themed ones. True love, the broad road, and future dinners are all waiting for you.
They’re young and restless, hot and hungry, but Bones and All, Y.A. source material or not, isn’t going to sell a lot of bedroom-wall posters of these two engaged in a swooning, plasma-splattered embrace. And, while the prospect of Chalamet’s army of youthful admirers swarming to what appears to be Twilight for carnivores on the surface, only to be faced with some really unsettling horror-movie visuals is enough to make you dizzy, Guadagnino’s intention isn’t to spring a trap. Certainly not a thirst-related one.
Rather, the Call Me By Your Name director wants to create an atmosphere and conjure up something that plays on both our national mythology of being on the move and the era’s stagnancy. Maren and Lee are Bowie and Keechie from They Live By Night, Bart and Annie from Gun Crazy, Kit and Holly from Badlands, and Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers, not Edward and Bella. They’re an outlaw couple who met because they were both misfits, a recurring theme in the Italian writer-work director’s regardless of genre.
Furthermore, for every element of Norman Rockwell Americana thrown in — for example, a kiss on a Ferris wheel — the film doubles down on what appears to be a Robert Frank portfolio of boring roadside digs and small-town poverty. (Guadagnino cites William Eggleston as an inspiration, and cinematographer Arseni Khachaturian reflects the iconic photographer’s work as though seen through a grimy, rotted patina.) This is a country on the verge of collapse, where love means never having to apologize — simply that you’re not in control of your appetites.
Or, at the very least, there are enough signifiers dotting Bones and All to imply a criticism of an era that set the groundwork for our contemporary dust empire. Guadagnino has always excelled as a sensual rather than a sociopolitical filmmaker, and while he isn’t outright luxuriating in poverty chic, there is the sense that the rundown homes and residential areas perilously close to belching smokestacks are more backdrops for his psychodrama than anything else.
He’s more involved in the eccentrics who walk the backroads and highways, most notably Rylance’s devil in Type O-drenched tighty-whities (who returns with a vengeance) and Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green (!) as a master-and-apprentice combination. And, of course, he’s dead set on using this as a showcase for his leads.
Guadagnino was the first to notice Timothee Chalamet’s presence onscreen, and while this Call Me By Your Name reunion has some strange thematic parallels with that previous production, it’s a logical continuation of their director-actor cooperation.
This twentysomething slim white duke may appear sexually alluring, as when he drives a carny so the pair can eat, or recessive and bashful, as when Lee carefully lets Maren pass through his long-calcified defensive layers. It’s a bravura exhibition of scuzzy, feral charm in any mode.
But this is a film that is entirely dependent on one person. This sensitive, gruesome journey into a nation’s innards is graced with one of those wonderful moments of casting the perfect actress in the right part, and it’s difficult to imagine anybody else doing honor to this young woman the way Taylor Russell does. She expresses liberty and remorse over satiating herself with such boldness and compassion in how she lets Maren succumb to her impulses.
The skepticism of the early scenes conveys how lost this soul is, and how thankful she is to be noticed and embraced by Chalamet’s roaming gourmet. You can plainly see how Russell has finally given this guy a purpose, a spine, a beating heart, and sharp incisors by the time tragedy rear its pockmarked head – you can’t place a spurned suitor on the mantle in Act One without him salivating over “unfinished business” in Act Three.
Before the final flashback fade-out, Maren comes into her own. Russell, on the other hand, comes into her own within the first five minutes of Bones and All, and the main joy of this twisted romance is as much about viewers relishing in an artist making her claim as it is about cannibals discovering their ideal meal companion.
By the way, the term relates to a rite of passage in which an “eater” eats every portion of a victim, right down to the marrow. It alludes to a last act of completion, a personal crossing of a Rubicon. By the end of this film, you feel like you’ve seen Russell push herself to her limits and emerge as a stronger actress as a result.