Reporting from the 2022 Telluride Film Festival.

It all started so innocently. One classmate invites another over for a sleepover. The second wants to go but knows her father will never let her. Not in a million years. He even has a barrel bolt on her door when she tucks in for the night. He should have thought more about the window.

She is Maren (Taylor Russell), an 18-year-old in desperate need of connection and discovery. She finds it, sort of, at the friend’s house. Soft music playing, girls painting their nails. It’s all very woozy. Maren’s friend invites her under the coffee table, and the two girls snuggle close, their voices dropping low and intimate. The friend shows off her freshly painted fingernail to Maren. Maren’s eyes gloss over as she tenderly opens her mouth and draws the finger in. The image is all soft and yellow, and warm. It looks like love. Right up to the moment when Maren bites down. Hard.

Bones and All, the latest from Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, spends its entire 130-minute runtime moving between tones with the greatest of ease. It’s a lovers-on-the-run story featuring cannibals.

Maren’s thirst for flesh is nothing new. Dad (André Holland) has kept the two of them on the move for years, in and out of shitty trailers and backwoods towns. But now Maren is 18, and he’s out. He cuts her loose and leaves behind a cassette tape confession explaining everything he knows about Maren’s feeding habits and a couple of bucks. Dad doesn’t know why Maren is the way she is, but Mother might. So Maren hits the road and crosses paths with a couple more eaters (Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg), a poser (David Gordon Green), and Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a floppy-haired young eater with a whole lot of brotherly guilt.

Chalamet is outstanding as Lee. His ability to remain silent and still, only to snap off lines like he stepped out of a screwball comedy, is half his charm. Sincerity is the other half. Not bad, considering he kills and consumes to get by in the world.

The source of their hunger is never really explained. At some points, screenwriter David Kajganich—working from Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 YA novel—presents the eaters’ appetite as a sexual metaphor with talk of first times, the intimacy of “drying off,” and the phrase “bones and all,” i.e., the consumption of everything. But the presence of the poser suddenly shifts the cannibalism metaphor into some closer to addiction. Lee is called a “junkie,” and his wiry, grungy appearance isn’t helping his case.

Though none of the eaters in Bones and All look healthy—I guess human flesh is a bunch of empty calories. But never mind, the movie isn’t remotely about that. It’s about love and family and urges you can’t quite suppress and the ones that really make you feel alive. It’s sick and gross and oh so good. It’s also really, really dirty. Bones and All is set in the mid-1980s, and this is the ’80s I remember, not slick and kitschy, but dirty, worn down, and slightly decaying. It’s great. 

Bones and All will be released by MGM on Nov. 23, 2022.