“Bones and All” mashes up a lot of genres, coupled with the promise of a “Call Me By Your Name” mini-reunion of director Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet, until now the star less likely to appear in a story with the word “cannibal” in it. A road movie about youthful flesh-eaters finding love (the title “Fine Young Cannibals” comes to mind), it’s a strange and intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying stew.
Despite Chalamet’s marquee appeal, the film actually belongs to and focuses on co-star Taylor Russell (who had a standout supporting role in “Waves”) as the teenage Maren, who discovers her appetite for human flesh, a condition that eventually causes her father (André Holland) to give up trying to protect her.
Forced to strike out on her own, Maren discovers a hidden community of people with the same unorthodox diet, learning how they accommodate those urges. That begins with Sully (Mark Rylance, freely chewing upon the scenery as well), a bizarre character who tries to help mentor her but gives off a decidedly creepy vibe.
Set in the 1980s, it’s not long before Maren meets Lee (Chalamet), who is both closer to her age and kind of dreamy, even if he occasionally sneaks off to kill and eat someone who at least gives the appearance of deserving it. At that point, “Bones and All” becomes a tale of two starve-crossed lovers, as Maren seeks to better understand her history by searching for the mother who abandoned her, while Lee separately tries to make peace with his own family.
There’s an unavoidably episodic quality to the pair’s travels, and strictly in terms of screen time, Chalamet plays a significant but relatively modest role. Guadagnino doesn’t dwell overly much on the details of this cannibal subculture – a metaphor for a whole lot of things, with vampirism as its most obvious cinematic precursor – but anyone drawn by the romance should at least be forewarned that it comes with no small amount of gore on the side.
The most frustrating aspect of “Bones and All” stems from all the knowledge gaps the movie (adapted from a book by Camille DeAngelis by screenwriter David Kajganich, who worked with the director on “A Bigger Splash” and “Suspiria”) doesn’t fill in about these strangers hiding in plain view among us, or what living with their affliction, if you can call it that, would look like.
Instead, the focus is narrowly on the here and now, on Maren’s personal plight, that doesn’t widen the lens to contemplate the world beyond it. It’s that rare movie that despite its flaws leaves you wanting more, where the limited series version would potentially be more rewarding.
Russell nevertheless delivers a breakthrough performance, anchoring the movie in Maren’s uncertainty and vulnerability, which provides necessary ballast given the florid nature of the characters around her.
Granted, she’s not the first teenager to exhaust her parents in a way that threatens to suck the life out of them. “Bones and All” just takes that dynamic more literally than most, while narratively speaking, feeling more like an appetizer than a meal.
“Bones and All” premieres November 18 in US theaters. It’s rated R.