Is it still acceptable these days for a father to lock his 17-year-old daughter in her room because he doesn't want her to spend the night with some classmates? One is inclined to answer the question in the negative, and therefore on Maren's side, who climbs out of the window and has fun at the slumber party - until, yes, until Maren puts a friend's finger in her mouth and gnaws it off at lightning speed, except for the Bone.
Bones and All is a film about cannibals among us. Look like us, behave like us - until the greed for human flesh wins and they have to flee like Maren, who then quickly packs her things and drives far away, in the next Greyhound. We are in the American Midwest, late 80's, full of drab diners and boarded up shacks, a skeleton of country where a human skeleton here and there attracts little attention.
And right in the middle of it all is this young woman who – as we say today – is looking for her identity. She knows she likes human flesh since she bit her babysitters, but she doesn't understand why. She doesn't know what kind of life she can lead, how to hide, how to ever love anyone. It's the fear of coming out, and the way young Canadian Taylor Russell plays it looks like the start of a terrific career.
Bones and All is a horror film first and foremost, and director Luca Guadagnino doesn't shy away from a graphic depiction of cannibalistic lust. Maren claws this meat, digs into it, bites into it, gasps, moans. It is pure lust, forbidden, outlawed like the bloodlust of vampires. Vampires follow clear rules (no garlic! no sun!), "eaters" don't. Maren gets to know others, they recognize each other by their smell, are loners, follow their own codices: who do you hunt? Only the dying? The poor? The unjust? Most importantly, can one cannibal trust another?
The question becomes relevant to Maren when she meets Lee. Lee is a Fine Young Cannibal: orange-streaked mullet, ripped jeans, blood-soaked Hawaiian shirt, grunge hero, new James Dean, River Phoenix, Johnny Depp. Meet Timothée Chalamet, the legitimate successor to those stars, made famous by Call Me By Your Name (and dating Depp's daughter for a while) - and with him comes romance to the horror. Now two misfits wander the country, vulnerable and murderous, like Bonnie and Clyde. Two innocents (if you can say that of cannibals, not of Hannibal Lecter), two lost people in search of a life plan.
Maren's father ran away when she turned 18, tired of fear of discovery, and her mother had hardly met her. Finding her is her only goal, maybe she has an explanation, a recipe for survival. Extinction and rebirth are very close, dependent on each other, as in a perverse way cannibalism and humanity.
Bones and All isn't a contribution to identity politics (although it touches on it) and it's not a plea for cannibalism, it's not about adding another K to LGBTQ. It's a metaphor for queerness of all kinds, and the film has a deep sympathy for this otherness and homelessness in a society that doesn't tolerate deviance; It is not for nothing that the film is set in homophobic Reagan America, which saw AIDS as God's punishment. Maren's father taught her that her desire was evil, that it had to be hidden, and she hid it...until the compulsion overcame her again. She was taught to hate herself, and like Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name," Bones also has to do with dealing with self-loathing.
There is probably no more sensual director in cinema today than the Sicilian Luca Guadagnino. In "I Am Love" his camera gleefully traces every hill, every curve of the delights of a feast as if they were body parts; in "Call Me" he stages antique statues in a sun-drenched garden in a similar way. In "Bones" he has now arrived at real bodies, which the camera caresses until, yes, until a feast of a different kind begins.
"Bones and All" is irresistibly repulsive and attractive, terrifying and beautiful at the same time. The film is being distributed by Warner, one of the big mainstream studios, and Guadagnino is said to have removed some gruesome scenes at their pressure; it's just a matter of balance. The way the film is presented now, it's more a love film than a horror film if love means selflessness and unconditional acceptance of one's fate. Many teenagers will find themselves in Maren and Lee - even if they have actually decided to live vegan.