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Though it is at times a YA version of Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, it’s safe to say there’s nothing exactly like Bones and All out there. It’s a violent, deeply romantic road movie for a subculture that doesn’t exist, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how Timothée Chalamet’s rather eclectic fan base responds to this gloriously grotesque film (and seeing him diving into KISS Army swag, which is truly something I thought I’d never see in a movie).

When it gets into a cruising gear, Bones and All is like a shark — graceful, lithe and only swinging out of its lane to rend some flesh and spill some blood. It is absolutely correct to speak of it alongside beloved fucked-up travelogues like Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Near Dark and Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby. (Real talk: If this film were just a little bit trashier, it could be a Freeway film, and that is one of the highest compliments I can give.) And regardless of how it fares at the box office, it will find its place in that pantheon, mapping the highways and byways of the U.S. with blood and sweat.

Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Chalamet) are teen cannibals on the run. We never really understand why they’re cannibals — whether it’s something genetic or supernatural or religious, it’s just something they have to adapt with and adjust to, this aspect in them that becomes the driving force in their lives. It’s entirely possible Camille DeAngelis’ novel sheds some light on the specifics of their situation, but it works as one of those teenage metaphors for the operatic cascade of emotions happening on a daily basis. Once you get past Mark Rylance’s Sully sounding far too reminiscent of Family Guy’s Mr. Herbert, you can dig into the specifics of his performance. It’s a great turn of an entity left behind by time, where the way they’ve found to conduct themselves for years doesn’t quite suffice anymore, and their relationship to the next generation is an unfortunate fusion of resentment and entitlement. Sully haunts the film, a source of necessary knowledge, a haunting (in both senses of the word) symbol, and an undefused landmine of where all that societal rejection goes. He’s also the closest thing to a traditional villain in the piece, being that his competition for that honor is ignorance, toxic masculinity, the tyranny of the majority and unfocused horniness.

As far as icky transcendence, there’s a great carnival-adjacent seduction that lets Chalamet and director Luca Guadagnino do a three-minute callback to their previous collaboration, Call Me by Your Name, that is as charged as one could imagine. It delivers a real grindhouse frisson in a film that is very conscious about having too much fun with the situation. Despite the film being freed from so many of the workaday institutions of Reagan-era America, there’s never a moment that feels like Maren and Lee are enjoying themselves or having any fun at all. Which is very reflective of that period in the ’80s (and, well, today). They are trying so hard to be respectable and responsible, and the real world keeps slashing at their ankles. Thankfully, the right New Order song can level up just about any scene in any film, and it defines the motif with which Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich (Suspiria ’18, The Invasion) build the film, sturdily, around: Pleasure is brief and transitory, and there are countless people who would rather see you hurt than allow a moment’s respite. At times, someone new shows up and it’s a previous Guadagnino favorite, giving the vibe of getting the band back together. As before, no one excels more at popping up to deliver a monologue that reshapes everything you thought you knew like Michael Stuhlbarg, here all greasy and stringy and haunting the woods with David Gordon Green in a Dokken shirt. Or Jessica Harper trying to articulate an impossible situation. Or Chloë Sevigny just gargoyling things up. It’s reassuring to see Guadagnino assembling his own repertory players for the dark, sensual world of films he’s been crafting. It reinforces community, built from the outside in.

Respect is due to the critic Jason Adams, from Pajiba and My New Plaid Pants, for completely shifting my perspective on this film. My initial impressions went along the pathway of the Freeway movies — taking known archetypes and exploring them without censoring the more gutbucket instincts that humanity takes part in, letting the messiness of American humanity shift the continuum of these narratives we’ve been carrying around in the subconscious for as long as we’ve been hearing stories. But Adams’ thoughts on the film made me approach it from another perspective — that of queer youth, navigating the obstacle course that is modern life when dealing with the contempt of the straight mainstream as well as the aftermath of how that mentality has shaped previous generations of queer people. (See also: Carter Smith’s forthcoming film Swallowed, which gives Mark Patton his best role in almost 40 years, exploring similar thematic and archetypal spaces as Rylance does here, but in a much more effective and straightforward fashion.) So much is rooted in the indeterminate late-mid-’80s timeframe that we forget how little access to information the average person had at that time (unless you were a librarian), and our information was resolutely analog — books, tapes, sheafs of paper. This is something Bones and All leans into, both the tactile absoluteness of these things and the way we looked upon it. It wasn’t something we could take for granted.

It’s all there in the opening sequence — high school fluttering to a secret sleepover, scored to Duran Duran, slipping from painting nails to puddles of blood in a matter that just fits into this heightened world of horror and hormones effortlessly. It’s a whole other world.

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