"The two fall in love and, of course, ever so romantically, do a whole lot of eating people together"pixabay/nextvoyage

From the director of 2017 romance Call Me By Your Name comes an unnervingly different creature of a feature. Luca Guadagnino's Bones and All preserves many of the sensibilities of its predecessor, except here extravagant romance is paired with extreme violence, and breathtaking beauty with visceral disgust. But once you've digested the sumptuous shots (and Timothée Chalamet’s red-dyed hair), you are left with a film that is, sadly, really quite mediocre.

We follow teenage cannibal Maren (Taylor Russell), who is — despite her uncontrollable urges to eat human flesh — an otherwise normal young woman. After biting through her friend's finger at a sleepover, Maren is abandoned by her father and consequently embarks upon a cross-country odyssey, where she meets fellow 'eater' Lee (Chalamet). The two fall in love and, of course, ever so romantically, do a whole lot of eating people together.

"The two fall in love and, of course, ever so romantically, do a whole lot of eating people together"

As someone who's partial to the road-trip genre, I was charmed by the expansive shots of the American countryside, the never-ending roads to nowhere, and that gorgeous blue pick-up truck. The roads keep us moving along society's peripheries - visuals that are not only stunning, but also evocative of the cannibals' social and moral alienation.

But it's hard to remain enamoured by such an exterior when it offers no real portal into the emotive or intellectual depth that it gestures towards. The cinematography instead acts as a veil that clumsily conceals underdeveloped characters, dramatic inertia, and a predictable romance. Maybe it's time someone deigns to say it - good cinematography does not necessarily make good cinema.

For a tale that attempts to pack so much in - horror, romance, passion, self-discovery - I left the cinema feeling rather empty. The elaborate attempt at a fusion of genres results in a lack of commitment to everything Guadagnino dips his toes into: too much breadth, too little depth.

The movie harnesses the aesthetics of horror but never the essence of it. Exploring a woman’s coming of age through a twisted, libidinal desire for flesh is practically a horror staple, but Bones and All takes this trope and removes all of its feminist intrigue. By framing it as a chronic affliction Maren has dealt with since birth, her character is allowed little room to breathe beyond it and thus never really 'comes of age' or even develops at all. This is the issue exactly: the shock value of the violence and gore is made digestible by characters who are defined by nothing morally ambiguous, nothing interesting, other than their cannibalism.

"There is no conflict, no stakes, and no chemistry"

There has been some speculation about the feature's potential allegorical meaning. And maybe it really is about addiction, or outlaws and the accepted moral norms we live by; maybe it's a strange study of cultural relativism. Thought-provoking though it could have been, this is little excuse for two-dimensional characters. By confining Maren and Lee to the fringes of society, they are too much prevented from confronting consequences. Guilt is hinted at only through aesthetic embellishment; the dusty pinks and reds that stain their costumes are politely suggestive of blood, but the issue is never truly examined.


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And God forbid the exploration of any moral ambiguities; “Look”, says Guadagnino, “here is a stock creepy male character who's an 'eater' without the helpless urges, so we know he's bad! Not like our conventionally attractive protagonists who can't help it, who are always remorseful, who must always have our unwavering sympathy.”

The predictable romance is expressed through stunted dialogue and saccharine clichés. There is no conflict, no stakes, and no chemistry. It is, ultimately, a simplistic romance dressed up in beautiful visuals. Far removed from the confronting complexity and moral murkiness of Call Me By Your Name, I'm afraid to say that Bones and All is all style and no substance.