How the ‘Bones and All’ cannibal scenes were brought to life

How the ‘Bones and All’ cannibal scenes were brought to life


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

“I’ve always brought baby bottles with some mouthwash,” Perez said Variety, detailing how fake blood was used in each of the scenes. “It was ridiculous because I always followed the actors with this baby bottle. But for Mrs. Harmon’s scene and for the end of the movie, we used a mix of syrups and brownies [for fake blood].”

Perez estimates she went through more than 10 liters of fake blood during production.


But an unforeseen complication soon arose when the viscous mixture would crust on the actors’ skin after prolonged contact. To reactivate the fluid, Perez made rounds on set with a hot water bottle and sprayed the plaster.

“At the end, the acting I think was more the suffering because of all the blood they put in their bodies,” Perez joked.

The bloody feature film is a dark romance between teenage anti-heroes Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) who have a compulsion to eat people. Based on a 2015 novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, the film is ultimately a love story. When Maren is abandoned by her father, she encounters Lee and other cannibals on a seemingly endless road trip to escape her past.

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

“Luca is very specific, and in my opinion one of the great qualities is that he has the ability to put the viewer in a truly immersive experience,” continued Perez. “After a while you don’t just watch and listen to the film, you start to feel it, smell it and enjoy it.”

Perez did extensive research to ensure that each character’s aesthetic was in keeping with the setting of the road trip film, set in Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio in the late 1980s. Using photos of people of the period in the corresponding states, Perez was able to draw inspiration from real people when testing looks for the full cast.

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

Aside from the painstaking pre-production process, Perez said the task of distinguishing the appearance of the “eaters” — as the cannibals are called in the film — from the humans was particularly daunting. Guadagnino emphasized that the cannibals should look normal at first glance, meaning Perez would have to get dirty to tell predator from prey.

Perez used subtle details to achieve this distinction: spraying blood under the eaters’ fingernails, leaving other small droplets of forgotten blood on the body, and creating scars that hint at these characters’ violent pasts. In the case of fellow cannibals like Sully (Mark Rylance), Brad (David Gordon Green) and Jake (Michael Stuhlbarg), carefully selected physical attributes are connected to a wider 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 the hand,” said Perez. “You can’t see it, but it’s there. [As a backstory, we decided that] maybe when he met Jake he tried to bite him…” She continues, “Sully has a large scar on 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 must be there because he tried to eat something and cut a bone in his chin.

Jason Hamer, owner and creative director of Hamer FX, created the prosthetics for the film and worked closely with Perez on the copious shots of bodily deformities. Detailed conversations with a pathologist gave the two insight into what it takes to actually consume another human being – knowledge that they could then translate into a more visceral, real-life depiction of cannibalism throughout the film.

“It’s not easy to eat someone, because before you get to the meat of the muscle — which is the soft part — you have to break through a lot of fat, and it depends on where you eat that, maybe you’re going to find some organs,” Perez said. “Luca wanted the residue of all this stuff.”

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

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

Perez and Guadagnino also just wrapped production for the upcoming 2023 feature film ‘Challengers’, a film about a tennis competition starring Zendaya. And while the upcoming movie is a complete shift in genre from “Bones and All,” Perez assures fans that it took just as much research to infuse the feature with Guadagnino’s signature realism.


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