Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, Bones and All, sees the acclaimed director reunited with several of his recurring collaborators. In a stacked cast including Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Chloë Sevigny, and Mark Rylance, it’s ultimately Taylor Russell’s film, and she commands the screen with unflinching honesty. Russell’s breakthrough came in 2019 with A24’s underseen and achingly powerful family drama Waves, her performance as a teenager in the throes of grief garnered indie acclaim. She proves her immense talent once again in her turn as Maren, a young girl falling in love and coming of age while grappling with violent cannibalistic urges. An eclectic merge of horror and romance, the film is ultimately a love story between two young cannibals as they traverse the backroads of America. Chalamet oozes his signature charisma as the fire-haired Lee, the disenfranchised cannibal Maren meets on the run and quickly falls for. While Chalamet was the young lead of Guadagnino’s prior romance, Call me by Your Name, he takes the backseat this time around as the love interest to Russell’s character.
‘Bones and All’ Is Taylor Russell’s Film
Amidst a stellar roster of actors playing violent cannibals and menacing grifters, Russell anchors the film in empathy and realism, a tall task for a role that requires her to perform gruesome acts of cannibalism. In her first scene with the chilling cannibal Sully (Rylance), he asks her to describe the smell of a body upstairs. Russell approaches the staircase in a trance-like state, illustrating the scent with vivid detail and grounding Maren’s urges with sincerity. Favoring oversized clothes that swallow her whole, Maren is a soft-spoken social outcast, but Russell portrays her with unbounded nuance. She’s shy but ridiculously street-smart, navigating life on the margins with caution and savvy. Russell’s depictions of Maren’s cannibalism display the vast spectrum of her range, emotionally cycling from restraint, unbridled pleasure, then immense guilt for what she’s just done.
One such scene is the film’s memorable opening sequence. Before the title card flashes across the screen, Maren sneaks out to attend a sleepover, invited by a sympathetic classmate who wants to help her make friends. In an erotically-charged scene underneath a coffee table, Maren inhales her classmate’s scent and eyes her freshly painted nails with desire before relenting to her urges and biting down on her finger. In the moments before the attack, Russell makes Maren’s bloodlust feel desperate and uncontrollable, an itch she’s desperately fighting to avoid scratching. She runs home after the attack, bursting through her front door drenched in blood. Feeling there’s no other way forward, her father (André Holland) abandons her the next morning. When she finds out he left her, Maren collapses in panic and devastation before quickly packing up and heading to the bus stop to begin her cross-country odyssey to find her mother.
Along the way, she meets Chalamet’s Lee, and her relationship with him is pivotal in her coming-of-age journey. In one of their first moments together at a diner, she studies him like a painting, Guadagnino’s camera work lingering on Chalamet’s tattooed knuckles before cutting to Russell’s enchanted stare. Russell’s face says a thousand words, spelling out Maren’s realization that she’s immensely attracted to him. Lee lives the cannibal lifestyle seemingly with ease, and despite their differences, Maren sees herself in his gaze. Russell and Chalamet’s chemistry is magnetic, with Chalamet’s tenacious and fiery Lee being the key to Maren’s self-discovery. Lee sees cannibalism as an unchangeable truth, a necessity for survival that they must do despite its horror. This dares Maren to grapple with her own identity, a complex and conflicting array of emotions Russell communicates profoundly. Lee reflects her identity to her like a mirror, both scaring her and forcing her to confront who she is.
Russell conveys the weight of Maren’s internal conflict with her identity with a palpable heaviness. After a dreamy carnival date, Maren and Lee feast on a carnival attendant, with Lee luring him into the woods under the guise of a hookup. Maren watches the murder with intrigue from afar before joining Lee to devour his body. After hopping in his car and going to his home to hopefully crash for the night, Maren discovers he has a wife and children at home. Her shock, horror, and disgust with what she has done are visceral. Lee pleads with her to cheer up, her distress only making the reality of their crimes worse. She refuses to look at him, curtly telling him “just drive.” Maren’s internal struggle is magnified when she finds her mother (Sevigny) at a mental hospital with her limbs eaten off. Russell approaches her with heart-wrenching optimism and openness before Sevigny attacks her, forcing Russell to flee the room reeling in terror. The incident sparks a determination in Maren to not end up like her mother, eventually leaving Lee before fatefully finding her way back to him. They decide to “just be people” for a while, itching for a sense of normalcy and stability.
The film jumps forward to a few months later, and Maren and Lee are now living together with local jobs. Russell transforms Maren from an insecure wallflower to a genuinely happy and self-assured young woman, now with a job at the local bookstore and a boyfriend she adores. It’s a vision of domestic bliss that comes quickly crashing down when Sully, who’s been obsessively stalking Maren, breaks in and tries to kidnap her. Russell goes toe to toe with Rylance in the unbearably tense scene, distracting Sully with conversation as he smothers her. After successfully killing him, Maren realizes Sully has stabbed Lee in the heart. Russell’s emotional journey in the film’s final moments is the striking culmination of an awards-worthy performance. She first refuses to believe Lee is dying, insisting they go to the hospital, before coming to the gut-wrenching realization that he will not survive. Lee asks her to consume him, “bones and all,” and Russell kisses Chalamet with a ferocity that soon turns to feasting. It’s a passionate and utterly heartbreaking sequence of two lovers’ last moments with each other.
Maren’s feasting on Lee could easily descend into camp and ridiculousness, but Russell’s utter conviction to the moment translates its poignancy. She fully disappears into the role, committing to the film’s violence while retaining the honesty and vast interiority of her character. In all of its blood-soaked body horror, the film is ultimately a tale of a young girl’s journey toward self-acceptance, experiencing an all-consuming love that changes her for the better. While Chalamet delivers his signature charm, this is Russell’s film, and she devours the role “bones and all.”