How the Bones and All cannibal scenes came to life

Luca Guadagnino’s latest theatrical release Bones and All is a chilling return to the horror genre for the director whose last hair-raising feature film was 2018’s Suspiria. But to bring the film’s disgusting cannibal scenes to life, Guadagnino relied heavily on the talents of his longtime head of makeup and close friend Fernanda Perez.

“I always brought baby bottles with mouth blood,” Perez said diversity, which describes how fake blood was used in each of the scenes. “It was ridiculous because I used to follow the actors with this baby bottle. But for Mrs. Harmon’s scene and for the end of the film, we used a mixture of syrup and brownies [for fake blood].”

Perez estimates that she used well over 10 liters of fake blood during production.

But an unforeseen complication soon arose when the syrupy mixture caked on the actors’ skin after prolonged contact. To reactivate the liquid, Perez made laps on set with a hot water bottle and hosed off the cast.

“In the end, acting, I think, was more of the suffering because of all the blood that they had on their bodies,” joked Perez.

The gory film is a dark romance between teenage antiheroes Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) who have an urge to eat people. The film is based on a 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis and is ultimately a love story. When Maren is abandoned by her father, she encounters Lee and other cannibals on a seemingly never-ending road trip to escape her past.

Perez described Bones and All as her most challenging project to date, largely due to Guadagnino’s meticulous accuracy.

“Luca is very specific and I think one of the great qualities is that he has the ability to put the viewer in a really immersive experience,” continued Perez. “After a while you not only see and hear the film, you start to feel, smell and enjoy it.”

Perez conducted extensive research to ensure each character’s aesthetic matched the setting of the road trip film, set in late 1980s Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio. Using photos of people from that time in their respective states, Perez was able to draw inspiration from real people when testing out looks for the entire cast.

“I think André Holland, Maren’s father, has the greatest resemblance. We made it look exactly like the photo of a family we found,” Perez said.

In addition to the meticulous pre-production process, Perez said the task of distinguishing the appearances of the “eaters” — as the film’s cannibals are called — from the humans was particularly daunting. Guadagnino stressed that the cannibals should appear normal at first glance – meaning Perez would have to get down and dirty to tell predator from prey.

Perez used subtle details to achieve this distinction: spraying blood under the eaters’ fingernails, leaving other small drops of forgotten blood on the body, and leaving scars that allude to these characters’ violent pasts. In the case of fellow cannibals like Sully (Mark Rylance), Brad (David Gordon Green) and Jake (Michael Stuhlbarg), carefully chosen physical characteristics are linked to a larger, yet untold story, Perez revealed.

“Timothée had six scars on his body [that were applied] Daily. With Brad, we decided to give him a bite to eat,” Perez said. “You don’t see it, but it’s there. [As a backstory, we decided that] maybe he tried to bite him when he met Jake…” She continues, “Sully has a big scar from his cheek that ends at the end of his ear. We asked, “What is this? Maybe it’s a fight with another eater?’ He has [another] Scar we decided would be there because he was trying to eat and a bone cut his chin.”

Jason Hamer, owner and creative director of Hamer FX, designed the prosthetics for the film and worked closely with Perez on the numerous body disfigurement shots. In-depth interviews with a pathologist gave the pair an understanding of what it takes to actually consume another human—knowledge that they were then able to translate into a visceral, true-to-life depiction of cannibalism as the film progressed.

“It’s not easy to eat someone, because before you get to the flesh of the muscles – that’s the soft part – you have to break through a lot of fat, and it depends on where you eat that, maybe you’ll find some organs,” said Perez. “Luca wanted the residue from all that stuff.”

Perez first met Guadagnino in 1996 during the production of his first short film, Qui, and their connection grew immediately. Since then, Perez has collaborated with Guadagnino, including 2017’s ‘Call Me by Your Name’ and 2020 drama series ‘We Are Who We Are.’ The two have even enjoyed family vacations together.

“Every film I do with Luca is a joy because he’s my best friend,” Perez said. “Every film is a reminder of our friendship.”

Perez and Guadagnino have also just wrapped production on their upcoming 2023 feature film Challengers, a film about a tennis competition in which Zendaya will star. And while the upcoming film represents a complete genre shift from Bones and All, Perez assures fans that just as much research went into infusing the feature film with Guadagnino’s signature realism. How the Bones and All cannibal scenes came to life

Charles Jones

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