By Connor Dziawura
Luca Guadagnino’s last two feature films were the decidedly different 2017 coming-of-age romantic drama “Call Me by Your Name” and 2018 arthouse reimagining of the cult classic horror film “Suspiria.”
For his latest, “Bones and All,” the Italian filmmaker is meeting audiences somewhere in the middle.
A road movie that melds these varying sensibilities, “Bones and All” centers around 18-year-old Maren and the drifter Lee, two people who ultimately find companionship in a world in which they struggle to fit in.
As opposed to something more conventional, however, the film considers those on the fringes of society. The pair, and others they encounter along the way, are cannibals.
An adaptation of the 2015 Camille DeAngelis novel penned by frequent Guadagnino collaborator David Kajganich, the film strikes the perfect tonal balance between its romantic heartbeat and horror elements.
Set amidst an ’80s backdrop, the film features recognizable needle drops from Joy Division (“Atmosphere”), New Order (“Your Silent Face”) and Kiss (“Lick It Up”), with a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that’s equal parts tense and tender.
A dreamy atmosphere, which makes great use of the American Midwest’s sparse landscapes and rural towns, is juxtaposed with bursts of gruesome cannibalistic violence. Audiences with tough stomachs may even find small doses of dark humor in the grisly subject matter.
Stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, the latter reuniting with Guadagnino after “Call Me by Your Name,” fit perfectly in the world the filmmaker creates, with the pair through their characters coming to grips with identity, regrets and cannibalism.
After being left to her own devices by her father, the film follows Russell’s Maren as she searches for her mother in an effort to uncover her roots. Chalamet’s Lee joins, bringing along his own mysterious baggage from which he seems to be on the run.
Michael Stuhlbarg, who also starred in “Call Me by Your Name,” and director David Gordon Green appear as a pair of cannibals they encounter in a particularly tense scene, but it’s Mark Rylance who steals the show as the supremely creepy Sully. The mysterious stranger introduces himself as a friend, but Maren is sensibly untrustworthy of Sully, who doesn’t seem to share the same reservations for killing. Rylance brings an unsettling energy to the chilling character, speaking with interesting inflection and mannerisms.
In contrast to the strange cast of characters encountered on the road, André Holland, who plays Maren’s father, deepens the film’s emotional weight and sets the daughter on her journey, leading to key appearances from Jessica Harper, who starred in Dario Argento’s original 1977 “Suspiria” as well as Guadagnino’s remake, and Chloë Sevigny, also reuniting with the filmmaker after his 2020 coming-of-age miniseries “We Are Who We Are.”
“Bones and All” may be too extreme or not go far enough depending on who you ask — it’s neither purely romance nor explicitly horror — but Guadagnino has managed to craft one of the year’s standout films, an interesting amalgamation that both shocks and moves.
“Bones and All” opens in theaters Wednesday, November 23.