Bones and All Is Clearance-Rack Grand Guignol

In Slate’s annual Movie Club, film critic Dana Stevens emails with fellow critics—for 2022, Bilge Ebiri, Beatrice Loayza, and David Sims—about the year in cinema. Read the first entry here.

Dear Dana, Bilge, and David,

Greetings from Manassas, Virginia! I’m writing this post from the guest room in my mom’s house, which is peppered with old knick-knacks of mine—to summon the spirit of my childhood room, I suppose. While flipping through my photo albums, I was tickled to find a blurry picture of the poster for Phone Booth, clearly taken by me on a disposable camera outside of a movie theater. I was probably too young to be watching a gunman thriller—thanks, Mom—but I’m pretty sure my affection for it had a lot to do with Colin Farrell, who was a relative unknown when that movie came out in 2002. To this day, I’m a bit gaga over him, though I think part of the reason my puppy love has turned into something more enduring is that, as I’ve gotten older and my tastes have evolved, so has the actor’s persona. Not to downplay his macho heartthrob phase in the aughts—I still go catatonic whenever I think about him salsa dancing in Miami Vice, and I sense noted MV-heads Bilge and David feel the same way—but it has been a delight to see him take on increasingly stranger, more cerebral roles for directors like Yorgos Lanthimos and Sofia Coppola while also pushing himself, unafraid to get ugly and unhinged, in blockbusters like The Batman. 

To say that Farrell’s performance in The Banshees of Inisherin is moving, and that—if his awards season front-runner status is any indication—he’s finally getting his due, feels like preaching to the choir. Still, I was impressed. That himbo quality of his, combined with his character’s provincial vision of life, hits a certain key of desperation that truly shook me when I first watched the film last month. The water’s warm in this Farrell lovefest, friends, though I’m also curious to know if there are other actors from this year’s slate who’ve been living in your heads rent-free—human or not!

As for Banshees, like many of my peers, I’m pleased that director Martin McDonagh has managed to redeem himself after Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which left quite a bad taste in my mouth. The critical love for Banshees seems as unanimous as the critical disdain was for Billboards. Surely, there’s no such thing as an airtight consensus, though it sometimes feels that way when you’re the only one who seems to be defending a movie—or trashing it. This leads me (in a very roundabout way!) to Dana’s prompt: What 2022 film had me frothing at the mouth, bewildered at how I could’ve possibly seen the same thing as everybody else?

This brings me back to Colin, and a movie I found so much more superficial than did most everyone I spoke to—though I’m pretty sure it’s not dear Colin’s fault. I’m thinking about Kogonada’s After Yang, a film that shoots downhill after its bracing opening dance number. I found Kogonada’s debut, Columbus, an impressively measured study of displacement, one that clutches its inspirations (Yasujiro Ozu’s sense of space, Stanley Kubrick’s rigorous compositions) to its chest without succumbing to pastiche. Atmospherically, After Yang certainly feels cut from the same cloth, but it’s a science-fiction movie set in an eco-futurist world of humanoid robots and self-driving cars given the Zen-chic sheen of a MUJI catalog. The [Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird voice] titular Yang is himself a robot, played by Justin H. Min, a companion purchased for a family’s adopted daughter meant to keep her in touch with her Chinese roots. The drama revolves around his malfunction, spurring questions—as seemingly all robot movies do—about what makes one human. Kogonada’s got some half-baked ideas about the surveillance state and what we find disposable, but his failure to stick the landing lays bare the pseudoprofundity of his aesthetic choices: all those idyllic, camera-twirling flashbacks, the intentionally delicate movements of characters who sit in contemplative silence. Thinking what? I’m not convinced that there’s much going on behind Farrell’s gorgeous, troubled gaze. All the ingredients of an existential tearjerker are there, but the results feel shallow.

It’s not the only movie this year that is so emphatically trying to be one thing but comes up short. This was also my experience with Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave. There’s no bigger sucker than me for Hitchcock-style intrigue and big-swing romanticism that dabbles in murder and perversity, but Park’s version strikes me as a little tame. For something so beholden to pulpy potboilers and erotic thrillers, it’s simply not trashy enough! Decision to Leave isn’t my favorite film, but I also didn’t hate it, and I understand why it’s beloved by so many. Hot people, wanting each other, turned on by the friction of mutual suspicion and obsession? Yeah, I get it. I just can’t help comparing it to the more delectably sleazy or deranged versions made by other post-Hitchcockians like Brian de Palma or Claude Chabrol.

But the film that most had me questioning my sanity—er, that of my peers—was Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All. I remember laughing throughout that movie at what a mess it was—losing it at the amazingly terrible music cues whose lyrics literally announce the plot points. In one scene, the nomadic lovers are forced to leave the one place they’ve managed to hold down and play house in like regular folks and—enter Trent Reznor’s crooning voice— We made it feel like home… for a minute. As I made my way home from the theater eager to watch my colleagues tear Bones and All apart limb from limb, I was met with a flurry of adoring reaction tweets. I’m still blinking in disbelief. The first fifteen minutes or so are decent enough: Taylor Russell is a teen cannibal who can’t control her appetite for human flesh, unleashing her baser instincts at a sleepover in which cozy, pastel-hued femininity is splattered with blood and guts. But then, after introducing this aesthetic—Virgin Suicides-style ennui spiked with grindhouse brutality—it goes nowhere.

Russell’s vagabond predator wanders around the American South and hitches her wagon to that of another cannibal, played by a particularly noodle-y Timothée Chalamet, who saunters around with James Dean-esque swagger, absent the sex appeal. It’s almost like Guadagnino, knowing Chalamet to be the matinee idol of our times, didn’t bother to test the actor’s chemistry with Russell. The couple’s relationship spikes from zero to hopelessly-in-love in a matter of minutes, but where is the heat? The tangerine skies and acoustic music cues suggest that their love is tender, precious, but I felt none of the swoony heart-fluttering that I should have. The film is oddly flaccid, like the shell of a romantic-horror classic in the vein of say, Tony Scott’s The Hunger or anything by Jean Rollin.

Bizarrely low on kills and thrills, and oddly disjointed and sleepy as a love story about two good-looking ne’er-do-wells finding each other again and again, it’s neither as mind-bogglingly romantic nor as viscerally violent as it believes itself to be. At face value, the movie looks like it’d be cool—new-guard beauties Chalamet and Russell in a blood-splattered tale of amour fou against a backdrop of freaknik Americana. It dangles all these appealing ingredients over the heads of horror buffs like me, who like their kills heavy with grit and eroticism. But, man, the thing screams clearance rack, and I can’t help but think that the people who actually took this for the real deal must be starved for anything with some real meat on its bones.

Anyway, with Bones and his annoyingly self-serious remake of Suspiria as evidence, Guadagnino seems to be squandering the magic of A Bigger Splash and Call Me by Your Name. Does anyone else feel suddenly turned off—or turned on—by any one director or star?

Noodlingly,

Beatrice

Read the next Movie Club entry: Lock Me in the Basement With More Movies With the Giddy Audacity of Barbarian

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Bones and All Is Clearance-Rack Grand Guignol

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