BonesAndAll

Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell take to the road on a quest in “Bones and All.”

There’s nothing quite like the experience of traveling the open road in the United States, especially out west.

One of my favorite adventures was driving from Buffalo to Los Angeles and back to Buffalo years ago in an older but well-maintained Chevrolet Malibu that one of my neighbors had given me. I was visiting friends in Los Angeles for a six-month stay. It wasn’t my first time traveling across the United States.

The mountains and high desert that compose the landscape of the American West have spectacular appeal. You quickly and completely understand the allure of the stunning vistas as you drive through what seems like infinite space.

One of the things I enjoyed were the traditional diners in small towns along the way and the people who work in them, especially the older waitresses. I had my dog with me, a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd and German Shepherd mix. I named him MacGuffin, which is what director Alfred Hitchcock called something tangible that drew the audience into the story he was telling in his films. My favorite classic-style diner was The Sportsmen’s Lodge in Springer, New Mexico, just off highway 25.

MacGuffin was a hit with everyone because we would sit outside the diner and have lunch together. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast for him. I was always given a deep dish from a smiling waitress for his water. On their way in and out of wherever we were eating, customers spent time talking to MacGuffin. It was fun and symbolic of what special goodness exists in most Americans. Remember hitchhiking?

I was thinking about my enjoyment of the open road after seeing the horror thriller “Bones and All” recently. The movie is now playing in theaters. It’s not your typical road picture. The story takes the joyful experience of traveling in your car and turns it into something monstrous.

“Bones and All” is resolutely disturbing. America at its worst. As a road film it’s as good as Terrence Malick’s superb “Badlands” and much better than the dull “Nomadland.” As a horror movie, it’s deeply unsettling. At times gruesome. We watch the dark and dangerous sides of the soul of America.

One of the intriguing things about “Bones and All” is who the lead actor is. Italian director Luca Guadagnino imagined the possibilities of taking the single most popular young adult American male star working today and putting him in as esoteric a horror movie as possible. A film with an extraordinarily off-putting theme.

Timothee Chalamet meets cannibalism. It’s a casting coup.

Many young actors start their acting career appearing in low-budget horror movies. After 19 previous films, epic media attention around the world, and an Academy Award nomination, Chalamet, who is also a fashion icon and heartthrob, has now made his first fright picture.

Clearly the fact that Guadagnino worked with Chalamet in “Call Me By Your Name” had something to do with it.

Maren (an exceptional Taylor Russell) is a girl with a secret. Her father is always on guard because the authorities can’t know that his daughter is a living and breathing cannibal. At three years of age, she killed her first victim, a babysitter. However, things have been calm, and we find her in high school where she’s a shy and conflicted student, who decides to go to a party anyway. During the fun-filled evening, she bites off the finger of a teenage girl.

Maren’s father gets them out of town, but eventually abandons her. He leaves her some money, her birth certificate, and a Sony Walkman cassette player. It’s 1988. On the tape he tells her about her life and offers advice to Maren about her desire to eat human flesh. Maren’s determined goal is to find her mother, who abandoned her. This will require traveling alone on the open road.

She first encounters Sully (a highly watchable Mark Rylance), who is a quirky, slow-talking adult male whose clothing is covered in collectable pins. He is also a cannibal. Sully discovers her because cannibals can smell other “eaters” as they are called. During one scene he partakes of a human body.

Eventually Maren finds friendship with a young male drifter named Lee (an outstanding Chalamet). He too is a cannibal, and he joins her on her quest to find her mother. To stay alive, they both must eat humans, and they do.

There’s a unique romantic connection between the two cannibals, and the film, which is well-written by David Kajganich from Camille DeAngelis’s young adult novel, becomes an expressive ode to heartache, hope, and hunger.

Maren has a moral center, whereas Lee seems to lack a conscience. After he picks up a bisexual country fair worker and eventually eats him, Maren discovers that the victim had a wife and little children. What will happen to them, she wonders?

“Bones and All” sets a clever trap for audiences. There’s a lyrical look to the film because of Arseni Khachaturan’s beautiful cinematography, and the sense of two young people finding companionship is decidedly poetic. However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of calm. The closing half-hour of “Bones and All” offers more madness than what has already been experienced.

The fiercely uncompromising movie is for older teenagers and adults, all of whom will need a strong stomach to get past the terrors on view. The acting by all is sublime. Director Guadagnino has crafted a movie in which cannibalism is presented in a matter-of-fact way. This makes the intense story more mesmerizing and the jolts much more frightening.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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