Bones and All (Italy/United States, 2022)

November 23, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Bones and All Poster

Adding a dash of gore and an undercooked romance can’t save this meandering road trip movie from slipping into monotony and boredom. The problem with Bones and All isn’t that it’s disgusting or shocking or transgressive; it’s that it’s a tedious slog. Filled with underdeveloped characters and a plot that goes nowhere, it reinforces the feeling I got from Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake: this director doesn’t understand horror but is really good at putting viewers to sleep.

The “eaters” of Bones and All are cousins to vampires. Like the blood-suckers of old, they are driven by an insatiable thirst for the warm lifeblood of humans (coupled with flesh, which vampires don’t much care for). The cannibalistic need doesn’t appear to confer any tangible benefits – eaters don’t live longer, acquire superhuman capabilities, or hang around with bats. Then again, they also don’t have to sleep in a coffin or fear sunlight. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich (basing his script on the novel by Camille DeAngelis) don’t expend much effort developing the “rules” for eaters, which leads to inconsistencies. It’s frustrating and lazy because it allows the filmmakers to use a “make it up as it goes along” approach.

18-year old Maren (Taylor Russell) is new at her Virginia high school and just starting to make friends. One night at a sleepover, an attraction between her and a friend bubbles over but what starts out as a playful sucking of fingers turns ugly when Maren chomps down, leaving the poor girl with bloody digits barely connected to the rest of her hand. Maren flees and her beleaguered father (Andre Holland) enacts an escape plan they have followed before: pack everything up in less than three minutes then get out of Dodge. By this time, he’s had enough. He hits the road, leaving Maren on her own with only a cassette tape (it’s 1988 when that medium was ubiquitous for audio) offering an explanation and some cash. Maren decides to search for her mother, who may be somewhere in the Midwest.

On the road, Maren encounters a surprisingly large number of other eaters (once she learns how to smell them, they emerge from the woodwork – like body-snatchers, they’re everywhere). The most disturbing of these is Sully (Mark Rylance), who offers to show her the ropes while displaying a creepy affection. Another is Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who becomes her partner, friend, and eventually lover. He helps her get a meal and joins her on her quest while introducing her to his non-eater sister, Kayla (Anna Cobb), and hinting at a dark secret in his past.

One assumes that Timothee Chalamet was cast because he’s generally regarded as a “hot” commodity and because Guadagnino is familiar with him from Call Me By Your Name, but he’s not a good match for Lee, who preens too much. There’s no sense of vulnerability evident in Chalamet’s performance – something the screenplay calls for. Taylor Russell is appealing as Maren, although her blending of naivete and self-loathing is at times unbalanced. The movie avoids exploring the sexual dynamic between Lee and Maren, although the movie is badly in need of the kind of jolt that an erotic element might have provided. There is sexual content in the movie – just not between Maren and Lee. Mark Rylance is enjoyably over-the-top as Sully, whose tendency to refer to himself in the third person (maybe from watching too much Elmo on Sesame Street) is one of his less ominous characteristics.

Most vampire-oriented movies have at least a minor allegorical component but it’s difficult to decode one here. Perhaps it’s about an outcast coming to grips with who she is and gaining acceptance? If that’s the case, then the bloody slaughter and cannibalism undercuts it. It’s said that, in a road movie, the destination is less important than the journey. While that may be the case in Bones and All, it’s not saying much because the trip is monotonous. The scenery is nicely filmed (there’s a great shot of a cozy family house dwarfed by a nuclear cooling tower) but there’s not a lot of variation through the Midwest as one state bleeds into another (we are helpfully told via on-screen captions when the calendar changes month or the travelers enter a new state). There’s plenty of blood but no true horror to go along with it. The movie is never more than mildly unsettling. And the lack of any potent chemistry between the leads has us waiting impatiently for Rylance to pop up again to liven things up. Given the right project, Guadagnino has shown himself to be a sensitive and capable director. Bones and All is not the right project. Not by a long shot.

Bones and All (Italy/United States, 2022)

Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-01-31
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1