It may seem strange, but We Are Who We Are creator Luca Guadagnino’s HBO series about adolescent slackers on a Northern Italian military base shares some of the same softness, sensitivity, and gentle naturalism as Bones and All, his intimate account of first love between two cannibal drifters in 1980s Middle America. The movie portrays its protagonists, played with a touching, guarded fragility by Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, not as monsters but as rootless outsiders yearning to connect and feed an appetite they can’t control, even when they’re feasting on human flesh and walking away wearing bibs of blood and gristle.
Russell, the revelation of Trey Edward Shults’ Waves, serves as the emotional focus of Bones and All. She portrays Maren, a young woman in Virginia who has relocated to a new high school and who avoids appearing in yearbook photographs but yet longs for companionship. She sneaks away to a sleepover despite her strict dad (André Holland) confining her in her bed in their trailer home at night for reasons that will soon become clear. Her students are terrified by what she does as they bond to the soft sounds of Duran Duran, which causes her to become hazy with contentment and nearly intoxicated.
Her father orders her to pack whatever she can three minutes after she arrives at the house covered in blood so they may go before the police arrive. They have made quick departures before. However, Maren’s heartbroken father abandons her at their subsequent basic temporary residence in Maryland. He leaves her with money and a cassette tape on which he describes the events of her young life, the carnage that started when she was a toddler, and the reasons why he is unable to care for her.
The atmospheric score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as the film’s delicate mood and melancholy restraint, initially bring to mind Tomas Alfredson’s stunning Let the Right One In, another emotionally complex first love story with a conflicted guardian and a female adolescent with a different kind of need to feed.
Although there is no lack of blood and it would be a stretch to call the treatment of the, ahem, cannibalism tasteful, viewers who have a phobia of gore are unlikely to be unduly alarmed by those features. This may be due to Guadagnino’s creation of an emo horror film. His teenage main characters’ heartbreaking loneliness and the life raft they eventually become to one another as they gradually let down their guard are more important to him than the shock aspect.
The conclusion of this dark, dreamlike film, which culminates in further slaughter, violence, and sacrifice, is oddly moving, bordering on poetry. That may be the case because, despite the script by Kajganich just spanning a few brief summer months, it seems to condense two young lives’ worth of experience, much like many intense first loves do.