Bones and all - Venice review: Peaches, werewolves and Timothee Chalamet
Guadagnino serves a masterful full-course cinematic coming-of-age meets 80's horror flick dinner
New city, new school year, just coming of age Maren is a new student trying to fit into an average high school in America. Her father is strict, forbids her to go to sleepovers with her friends, picks her up before school and locks the door to her room before going to sleep. And then, like every teenager, Maren sneaks out. She goes to one of her new friend's houses. A bunch of girls are lying on the floor, listening to the latest music hits of the 80s, talking about boring life and having some snacks. Maren seems chill, so she decided to take a bite. Mildly, then harder, then to the bone, until she rips off the finger of one of her new friends, and smugly covered in blood and accompanied by the screams and frenzy of her new school friends, she runs back home to her father... The procedure of packing up and running away is swift and well prepared, so the duo is once again on the road, moving to another new city, where Maren will once again be a new student as the new school year begins. These are the opening minutes of the latest Luca Guadagnino's coming-of-age teen drama goes 80's-cliche-horror-flick Bones and all. And while this is just a quick bite of Guadagnino's masterful filmmaking it is just an opener for a full-course cinematic dinner.
Bones and all follows Maren (starring Taylor Russell) a young woman with cannibalistic urges, that has just been left alone in the world. Her father (played by André Holland), after multiple tries and hopes to help his daughter has bailed, leaving her with some cash, a birth certificate that holds information regarding Maren's mother, and an audio cassette with his final goodbyes and a backstory of girl's human-flash-eating tendencies. The only logical next step for Maren, of course, is, to travel the country seeking her mother, while also retracing her footsteps from her father's memory. Soon enough she finds out she is not the only meat-thriving individual on the road.
At first, it may not be the most obvious why a prominent film director of today would want to throw himself into the adaptation of a collection of horror and teen narrative clichés offered by Camille DeAngelis's literary template. The book that contains the skilled jigsaw puzzle of chewed-up tropes, which would usually be worthy only of an average reading on the beach/when there's nothing else to do, still gives more than enough material that matches the sentiments of Luca Guadagnino. The Sicilian film maestro who built his name on the edge of art films and genre definitions has already shown himself to be more than capable of making coming-of-age adaptations and is interested in Giallo and similar horror trends of the 80s are the perfect name to create a highly visual spectacle with on the one hand while following the simplest narrative lines on the other. And that is what is evident and what excels in this film. The pulp novella template, allows Guadagnino to devote himself to the construction of highly aesthetic frames, pastel, blue and slightly grainy, escaping the aesthetics of 80s films such as The Lost Boys or An American Werewolf in London. This is of course followed by the general mood and the tempo of R.L. Stine or Stephen King's book adaptations of those times. Yet, even though there is so much so of the familiar when it comes to the style and the pace, Guadagnino manages not to leach on it, like Stranger Things or the latest adaptations of IT do, but rather to make it its own. It is there to serve the purpose of entertaining and bringing this simple story to a somewhat relevant and immersive experience.
Things don't just stop at the aesthetics level, but further on develop through the deep body language focused acting, shaped, in some moments, to the truly respectful, brilliant scale. Of course, this is mostly noticed in Marlene's faithful companion, friend and love interest Lee, played by Timothée Chalamet, as his presence on screen can be simply put to words with difficult and on the verge of angst. While the whole character of Lee isn't too complex, I mean it is just another basic will-I/won't-I kind of teen boy on film, Chalamet in his performance brings so much more to it, spicing it up, taking it a step further where in some instances he adds the layer of mister of what might be this characters next move.
Besides Lee, the film brings also a noteworthy dreary duo, Brad and Jake (the great Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green) whose appearance turns the stomachs upside down. Still, they are just a side hustle compared to what Guadagnino managed to pull off by shaping and bringing to the big screen the "villain" of the story. Sully (whose embodiment and blood-curdling appearance is due to a remarkable performance by Mark Rylance) might be one of the best-built antagonists of the past few decades, somewhere in between all those lost old folks in horror films and a Hanibal Lector. From his ominous presence, to his moves and facial expressions of a gentle looner gone madman there is truly something in the appearance of Sully that brings back the memories of all the great classic antagonists.
With that said, there isn't much else to add about the film. It is a very visually satisfying, entertaining film that has a perfect pace, a great cast and seriously smells like the top movie bloodbaths that were served on the big screens four decades ago. There is here and there a little dose of seriousness, questioning of humanity, rejection, and mythological creatures, but nothing worthy of great and detailed debates and deliberations. It's just a perfect two-hour cannibalism movie worth watching now and then during Halloween, or whenever one might feel some need for a smart meat-eating kind of flick.