Bones And All (R21)
131 minutes, opens on Thursday
The story: In Reagan-era America, Maren (Taylor Russell) lives in poverty with her father. They are forced to move whenever her criminal tendencies emerge. An incident forces her to seek her birth mother to discover the source of her strangeness. On the road, she meets Lee (Timothee Chalamet) and feels a kinship with the drifter who, like her, is driven by violent urges. They traverse the country’s smaller highways, sometimes meeting other outcasts with similar urges, each with his or her own story to tell. Winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director for Luca Guadagnino at 2022’s Venice International Film Festival.
This horror-romance could be called the art-house remake of The Twilight Saga (2008 to 2012). With the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson vampire film series, Bones And All shares the idea of young love enveloped by an unspeakable secret, as well as the idea that falling in love is about finding your tribe as much as it is about finding a soulmate.
Where this differs from the young-adult template set by Twilight is its delivery of horror or, more specifically, gore. There is nothing romantic or aestheticised about the way its young protagonists, especially Lee, prove that they are capable of butchery. They are not thrill-killers, in case you are thinking of other sadism-driven road movies.
Maren and Lee are reluctant life-takers. The shared evil that holds them together also drives them apart.
There is plenty here to chew on – so to speak, for those inclined to see metaphorical references – from sexual repression and meat-eating to drug addiction and capitalism gone mad. These are the poorest Americans, shown preying on one another, as their president speaks to them on the radio about living in the greatest country on earth.
Italian director Luca Guadagnino (the horror film Suspiria, 2018; the Chalamet-starring romantic drama Call Me By Your Name, 2017) keeps the sense of disgust and danger at the forefront of the story, and it works as a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the Maren-Lee courtship.
To his credit, Guadagnino does not romanticise grinding poverty, a weakness that film-makers not born in America tend to do.
Maren and Lee live in properly grimy circumstances, but as Guadagnino points out with his masterful cinematography, love has a way of making the real world less harsh.
Russell’s Maren, as the young woman driving across America and into her horrific family history, turns in a mesmerising performance.
Hot take: Cute couple, horrific backstory. This adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 horror novel never loses sight of its romantic core, even as it explores the stomach-churning nature of their urges.