Tag Archives: Taylor Russell

‘Bones and All’ Offers a Raw Look at Adolescence

Every once in a while a film will come along and completely take your breath away. Luckily for me, the most recent film to do so is a Uterus Horror film. That film is Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria, Call Me by Your Name) and written by David Kajganich (Suspiria, The Terror). 

Based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All tells the story of Maren (Taylor Russell). While at a glance Maren seems like a typical teenage girl living in the 1980s, it becomes apparent that she lives a fairly sheltered life. Her father doesn’t want her going out except for school, and he even goes so far as to lock Maren’s bedroom door from the outside at bedtime. When Maren finally befriends a girl at school and is invited to a sleepover, she decides to sneak out of her bedroom window after her father falls asleep. Everything goes fine at first, and we get a glimpse of the normal life Maren could have. However, that future is destroyed when Maren’s teeth close around another girl’s finger, devouring the flesh as the girls at the slumber party scream and panic. Maren runs home and wakes her father, blood still on her face. He quickly gathers up their meager possessions and instructs Maren to do the same. They flee to another town to avoid the police.  

Shortly after Maren’s 18th birthday, she awakens to discover her father has abandoned her. All he leaves behind for his daughter is some cash, her birth certificate, and a cassette tape. As Maren listens to the tape, she discovers what happened at the sleepover was not her first cannibalistic encounter. In fact, there were many times over the years where Maren’s father had to flee to a new town after her hunger took over, yet Maren has no memory of these past episodes. Now that Maren is 18 years old, her father cannot continue to live this way and leaves her to fend for herself. After the initial shock wears off, Maren comes up with a plan. Her birth certificate shows the name of the mother she never knew and the town where she was born. She decides to hit the road in search of her mother, hoping it will help her answer the question of who—or what—she is.

This takes Maren on a strange, often lonely, and even dangerous journey of self-discovery. At her first stop along the way she encounters an odd older man named Sully (Mark Rylance). Not only does he claim to be like her, an “eater,” but he also says he found her because he could smell her from a long distance away. Maren reluctantly goes with Sully, desperate to learn more about herself. Sully explains that he tries not to kill people. Instead, he uses his nose to smell when someone is close to death, waits nearby, then eats them after they die. He also tells her the most important rule is that you never eat another eater. While the two eat flesh together and Maren stays the night in the same house with Sully, there is something about him she doesn’t trust, so she flees to catch an early morning bus.

Now in a new state, Maren goes to shoplift some food and runs into a young man named Lee (Timothée Chalamet). Using one of the tricks she learned from Sully, Maren can smell that Lee is an eater, like her. Lee agrees to give Maren a ride and help her find her mother. Along the way, Maren learns that Lee lives a very different life as an eater. While he does kill, he does his best to only kill bad people or individuals with no family to miss them. He also still has a close relationship with his family, or at least his little sister, and visits as much as he can as someone who lives life on the road. Through their travels together, Maren and Lee fall in love.

As Lee and Maren travel from state to state, they encounter other eaters. One man they meet eats without rules or remorse, even claiming to eat the bones of his victims. This eater also has a traveling companion who eats human flesh, but he’s not an eater. Instead, he’s a man who chooses to be a cannibal rather than having a biological need the way true eaters do. Finally, Maren finds her mother, Janelle (Chloë Sevigny). Not long after Maren’s birth, Janelle returned to her childhood home with her adoptive parents, then eventually committed herself to a mental institution. Maren is shocked when she sees Janelle, heavily medicated and fairly immobile after cannibalizing her own arms. The only way Janelle can communicate with Maren is with a letter she had written for her daughter years before, knowing she would eventually find her. In the letter Janelle calls Maren a “monster” and says she would be better off dead than to live as an eater. Janelle even tries to kill her own daughter before Maren flees.

Bones and All is not the kind of film that leads to a happy ending, but Maren’s experiences tell a compelling tale of Uterus Horror. On the surface, the film can be seen as a young woman experiencing her first love, which is quite common in this subgenre of horror. But Maren and Lee’s blossoming love story is secondary to Maren’s own personal journey of self-discovery. When we first meet Maren, she is only just learning the truth of who she is and her biological desire and need for human flesh. She didn’t grow up with family who truly understood this proclivity, so she had no one to help her navigate the world. 

The months Maren is on the road are vital because she does get the opportunity to meet other eaters. Each of them has their own set of rules and methods. Some of these eaters try to be good people, despite being cannibals, while others are evil to the core. Despite all of these outside influences, Maren has to find her own way. She has to work through the guilt she feels for killing and weigh it against her growing hunger. The other eaters clearly believe they are living life the correct way, and do their best to impose their behaviors onto Maren. Luckily, as Maren finds herself, she also finds the strength to forge her own path that balances her hunger and her conscience. 

Something interesting to note about eaters is that the only other female eater Maren meets on her travels is her own mother—and she’d rather see Maren dead than alive as an eater. It almost makes it seem as if eaters are more commonly men, and it is interesting to watch the various men Maren meets throughout the film, including her father, try so hard to tell her how to live. The world is already a dangerous place for women, but the fringe world Maren travels through is filled with men who regularly take lives. They might lash out and break the “never eat another eater” rule, or resort to some other nefarious acts, because their possessive actions show Maren as property. Either way, Maren is mostly on her own, too good for the world she is forced to be a part of because of her biology. The only exception is Lee, and that exception only exists because of love.

Maren’s story is a unique piece of Uterus Horror cinema. Not only is she one of the few women of her kind, but she also goes on a compelling cross-country trek discovering herself and finding love. It’s a dark yet hopeful coming-of-age story that isn’t necessarily unique to women, but this journey is specific to Maren. Russell’s portrayal of Maren is so raw and sincere, the audience can’t help but be completely entranced, and women watching will likely catch glimpses of themselves in her. Bones and All is a Uterus Horror at its most vulnerable and its most grotesque. It’s a gut-punch of a film, but one I can’t wait to watch again and again.