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3rd December 2022

Bones and All review: A bloody mess

Bones and All has been set up to be a gory revision of Romeo and Juliet fuelled by cannibalistic addiction and love. With a strong cast and alluring cinematography, why did it feel lacklustre?
Bones and All review: A bloody mess
Photo: MGM

Following the huge success of Call Me By Your Name and We Are Who We Are, Director Luca Guadagnino has teamed up once again with Timothée Chalamet to produce Bones and All. A far cry from his breakthrough summer romance, Guadagninio shifts his directorial focus to blood, guts, and addiction. However, despite the strong cinematography, cast, and music, Bones And All just didn’t live up to the hype.

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Set in 1980s middle America, the film follows Maren (Taylor Russell), a teenager coming to terms with her cannibalistic desires. This is made clear from the get-go, with the first few scenes acting purely as a set-up for the rest of the film. In the span of ten minutes, we watch Maren sneak out of her bolted bedroom to go to a sleepover. At first glance, it plays out like a typical Americana coming-of-age film, until Maren hones in on her friend’s finger, chewing flesh from the bone. From then on, the tone shifts to American horror.

At the core of the film are American culture and values, something Guadagnino emphasized as important to the capturing cinematography and tone of the film. Each set, costume, and landscape was carefully thought out, as Guadagnino explained to Vanity Fair, to represent “80s Americana” and its beauty. The camera shots perfectly add warmth whilst manipulating the emotions of views, perfectly framing each actor’s performance. Something Guadagnino never fails to do is provide stunning cinematography balanced by a delicate and eerie score.

However, beyond the visuals themselves, Bones And All fails to live up to its hype. The main cause of this is its plot or lack thereof. In some ways, the plot matches the lead’s turbulent life flawlessly, with there being no real direction or purpose to Maren and Lee’s life. At the same time, a lot is going on.

Most of the film is centred around Maren finding her mother. Yet, once we meet Maren’s mother, that plotline abruptly ends, with the film scrambling to find something else to focus on. This sense of aimless limbo carries on for the rest of the film. But, again, the aimless wandering was intentional, representing the nomad lifestyle of Maren and Lee.

The acting behind Lee, Maren, and the rest of the cast holds this film together. Had the lead’s performances been weaker, the film would have very easily slipped into a cheesy horror instead of a personal struggle. You can see the passion and empathy each actor puts into the part, especially Chalamet, who complements Russell’s lead role.

However, beyond the leads, the characters themselves feel pointless, with the script’s simplicity failing to add depth. At time, I questioned why certain characters were popping up, such as Sully (Mark Rylance). Sully represented everything Maren needed to avoid, with the ‘eater’ fully isolating himself from society to pursue his cannibalistic needs. In short, the man was a creep, which Guadagnino could’ve experimented with more. But, the character only pops up three times throughout the whole film, for no real reason than to stalk Maren. By the end, it feels like Sully’s only role was to kill off Lee, adding tragedy to perfectly round off Guadagnino’s love story.

The emptiness behind the supporting characters seemed to be recurring, acting only as a prop-up for the leads.  It was clear that each character had a role in the film, either as prey, a life lesson, or someone to lose. Through each role, they attempted to add depth or tie loose plot ends. But the characters themselves had little substance beyond their role.

Lee’s sister, Kayla (Anna Cobb) is the perfect example of this. Had she been more developed, Kayla could’ve been a strong character and added more to the plot of Bones And All. However, her only dialogue is either in conversation with Lee, or talking about Lee to Maren, miserably failing the Bechdel test. Even when her death is revealed at the end, there is little shock or empathy felt, partly because we didn’t know her, and partly because Lee too is dying as he realizes. Had Kayla had more screen time, showing her struggling in the wake of Lee’s addiction and isolation, it would have only added to the emotional poignancy that Bones And All was trying to achieve.

Ultimately, I really wanted to like Bones And All. The cinematography was stunning, akin to Little Women, and the score complemented each scene perfectly. But, at times, the script was questionable.

Lines were too blatant when they should’ve been complex or phrased differently. Call Me By Your Name did this well, with lines providing an insight into what each character was thinking without giving too much away. The speech was cunning and carefully performed, which is something that should’ve been added to Bones And All.

Had the script reflected Maren’s moral compass and Lee’s emotional turmoil, their love story would have had the same weight as Call Me By Your Name. Instead, as we watch Lee bleed out, his begging lines for Maren to eat him are laughable and odd rather than a beautiful last wish, which Guadagninio was trying to achieve.

What could’ve been a gory Romeo And Juliet turned into just another horror with an attractive lead. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet poured their soul into each scene, but it wasn’t enough to fulfil Guadagninio’s vision of a true romance fuelled by inescapable addiction. Despite this, like Don’t Worry Darling, Bones And All is worth a watch simply for its cinematography and lead performances. Although I warn you, some bits are odd…

Bones And All is in cinemas now. 

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