‘Bones and All’ review: Morbidly beautiful exploration of alienation, identity, and love
Taylor Russell (left) as Maren and Timothée Chalamet (right) as Lee in BONES AND ALL, directed by Luca Guadagnino. | Yannis Drakoulidis / MGM Pictures

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s a film that centers around cannibalism. Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All will give viewers many themes to feast upon. The story, centered on a young cannibal’s search for meaning, takes us on a journey dealing with alienation, identity, and human connection.

It’s an amazingly beautiful film that manages to keep its morbid edge throughout. To simply designate it to one particular category—be it horror, romance, or drama—would be a disservice to all the spaces this film encompasses. It’s not a film for the faint of heart (or the overly squeamish), but it is a cinematic experience that will leave many unsettled in the best kind of way.

Directed by Guadagnino with a screenplay by David Kajganich, Bones and All is based on the book by Camille DeAngelis of the same name. Taking place in the 1980s, the film follows a young woman named Maren (Taylor Russell) who is coming to terms with the fact that she has a hunger for human meat. Unable to be like others, and moving from town to town, she has long felt like an irredeemable outcast. Going on a journey to figure out who she truly is, she meets a number of others like her, including Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a small-town rebel who helps her survive. What develops is a vulnerable love story in the midst of death and violence.

Director Guadagnino creates an immersive atmosphere with beautiful cinematography, quiet conversations, and tenderness. It’s easy to fall into the world with Maren and Lee despite their situation being so outside the bounds of what is acceptable in society. When it comes to the music, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross create a film score that fully embraces the varying moments of loneliness, urgency, intimacy, and danger throughout.

And it’s a great accomplishment to be able to lull the viewers into a sense of security and openness, because Bones and All then proceeds to lay on some pretty heavy topics.

The idea of otherness is explored through Maren being unable to deny her cannibalistic urges, but it also exists in other layers, as she is a Black young woman with little money to her name. Being a cannibal, she is ostracized from society, but one could argue she was bound to end up feeling this sense of ostracization even if she didn’t have a craving for human meat. There’s a feeling that the film is saying that everyone, depending on how far they stray from the “accepted” group, can be made to feel like the “other” in regards to some facet or another of their life.

This is also what makes the film ingenious. It is easy, initially, for the audience to be repulsed by cannibalism and the explicit images of characters chomping on warm human flesh, but it soon becomes clear that cannibalism in the film could honestly be replaced with a host of other socially condemned traits.

For example, Maren and Lee could have been drug addicts. This is often a group looked down upon by society as a whole, cast aside instead of helped systemically—condemned rather than understood. These characters are marginalized because of who they are. When you make this connection, it becomes clear the film is dealing with universal themes and not just a niche exploration of the macabre.

This is also explored as the audience watches Maren try to figure out who she is as an individual. Is she doomed? Is there any hope of a decent life given her nature? She has to contend with how the world sees her and how she chooses to see herself. She’s searching for community and a sense of belonging, but she doesn’t readily agree with every other cannibal she encounters. Just like any other group, this one is also not a monolith, and Maren’s struggle to figure out her own principles and beliefs is on full display.

None of this would be possible to do so effectively without the talented cast. Our two leads, Russell and Chalamet, truly do knock it out of the ballpark with their performances. Russell anchors the film with her portrayal of Maren. She exudes the perfect mixture of innocence and strength with a character that could easily go too far in either direction in a less capable actor’s hands. Chalamet and Russell’s chemistry gives the film a hopeful vibrance despite the story’s lingering feelings of dread.

André Holland, who plays Maren’s father, gives a strong performance with a smaller yet essential role.

If you’re looking for a film that has a main external conflict driving the entire story, then you won’t find that here. Bones and All is a mixture of road-trip and slice-of-life storytelling. At 130 minutes long, that may be a little too much exploration for some viewers. Yet, Guadagnino does such a fine job with the flow of the film that it never feels like a slog to get through. There is blood and gore, but it never feels gratuitous or over the top. More so it is used to emphasize the reality of Maren and Lee’s predicament.

Overall, Bones and All will no doubt be a film that will have plenty of people talking. Guadagnino asks us to go on this journey. To question who these characters are, and learn about ourselves in the process of watching them. That might be hard for viewers to attempt naturally, but the film lays a beautiful groundwork to try.

Bones and All opens everywhere in theaters Nov. 23, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.