The beginning of bones and all it’s genuinely the stuff of nightmares and could easily stand alone as a short, tapping into the American tradition of urban myth while also establishing a deceptively sophisticated narrative. The rest of Luca Guadagnino’s latest doesn’t maintain this level of mastery and tension, which is a blessing in a way, but possibly because bones and all It’s not really a horror movie. After the shocking opening salvo, the film sheds its genre skin to become a quasi-anthropological study of marginality, using the false dawn of 1980s America as a kind of petri dish for a new type. of conformity that has brought us to where we are today.
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This opening scene involves a new girl in high school, Maren (Taylor Russell), who lives in Spartan digs with a father who is also her guardian. Invited to a sleepover, Maren sneaks out of her room, which is locked from the outside, to join a group of her roommates. It’s the John Hughes moment, when the odd duck is accepted, but this, of course, is a Luca Guadagnino movie and there’s no icing: a small but traumatic scene of violence occurs, and Maren’s panicked return home It explains everything: the lack of decoration, the lock on the door and the bags prepared just in case.
This proves too much for Maren’s father, who escapes into the moonlight and leaves his daughter with a recorded confession, explaining why he left and why Maren is what she is: a cannibal. The revelation sets Maren on a journey of discovery, setting off on a road trip to find her biological mother, apparently the source of this curse.
But just as Maren finds herself alone, she realizes she’s not alone: While waiting for the Greyhound bus, she befriends Sully (Mark Rylance), a sinister highway gentleman who claims to know Maren’s secret and gives her a ride. back to what appears to be her house. But looks are always deceiving bones and alland when Maren learns the shocking reality behind Sully’s trap, she takes off again.
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The next time, however, it is she who sees the fellow traveler, correctly identifying Lee (Timothée Chalamet) as a kindred spirit after seeing him in a supermarket, assessing a victim. Lee initially rejects Maren, but the two nonetheless strike up a sympathetic relationship, at which point the film takes on the vibe of a lovers’ road movie, with a dynamic along the lines of They live at night or maybe Robert Altman’s thieves like us.
Once along the way, there’s a picaresque quality that, for once, fits the material, as Maren, with Lee, begins to become aware of the true scale of the cannibal community through chance interactions with its members and admirers. (A cameo from director David Gordon Green is especially memorable in this regard.)
There’s also a haunting scene of messy domesticity when Maren finds her grandmother, a chilling yet emotionally powerful performance from sighby Jessica Harper (presumably, as call me by your name‘s Michael Stuhlbarg, who appears to be eaten, is now one of Guadagnino’s repertory company). The cast, in fact, is central to the film’s sense of surprise, not least when Chloë Sevigny makes a very unexpected appearance.
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The movie has to end, of course, and at a certain point it’s hiding out of nowhere, as an ambiguous ending would be a disappointment and a round ending would, and in a way does, break the mood. Possibly because it’s based on a novel (by American author Camille DeAngelis, who presumably posed it as a response to Twilight), there is a point, when Sully unexpectedly returns, where storytelling comes into play at the expense of feel and mood, but there is also a sense that something is missing (the title promises a physically and intellectually juicy piece that never quite arrives).
However, there is a lot, no pun intended, to chew on here, about people who feel disenfranchised, unloved, and unwanted. The ending may disappoint, but it also ensures that the film will come to life as a flawed masterpiece, the best kind of cult movie, after all.