When you hear the words “Timothée Chalamet cannibal romance,” perhaps you have a vision in mind: Timmy poised at the head of an elegant table, whipping a napkin around his neck, then delicately slicing into his dinner (people) with a nice Chianti. Bones and All is not that movie.
In the film, director and maestro of forbidden love Luca Guadagnino tells the story of a teenager named Maren (Taylor Russell) who’s abandoned by her father (André Holland) on account of her chronic people-eating habit. When she encounters a fellow fine young cannibal—or “eater,” in the movie’s parlance—named Lee (Chalamet), the two of them hit the road on a cross-country trip through 1980s America and strike up a passionate romance. It would all be pretty idyllic, if not for their insatiable appetites for human flesh.
When Maren and Lee and the others eaters eat, they get on all fours and tear meat right off the body with their teeth, with the ease of wolves. They end up covered in more blood than seems possible. And it all looks eerily realistic. So how did the year’s hottest cannibal romance nail this crucial component to the film? We called up the cannibal coordinators of Bones and All to find out.
Fernanda Perez, head of makeup, told me that the entire process started with speaking to a pathologist. “Luca is very specific,” she said. “Since the beginning, he told us he didn’t want gore or fantasy. We contacted a pathologist because we wanted to know what it looks like to eat a person—and we discovered that it’s not so easy to eat a person.” (Reassuring.)
The difficulty, in part, comes from all the layers of skin and fat to chew through. Jason Hamer, the prosthetics lead, told me that the cannibal actors were either munching from a full body replica—such as in the case of Mrs. Harmon, an elderly woman whom Maren and Sully (Mark Rylance) devour early on—or silicone parts grafted on top of actual actors. “It was important for us to recreate all the different layers of the skin, the fatty layer, the muscle, the sinew. That was our challenge,” Hamer said. “It’s not just a big, flat silicone piece. It’s tearing and getting the grit between the teeth all that stuff Luca wanted.”
One of the most visceral scenes comes right at the start, when Maren is at a sleepover and suddenly chomps off her classmate’s finger. “Luca wanted to see the flesh, the bone, the layers,” Hamer said. So his team had the actress press down her ring and pinky finger and then slipped on a glove with prosthetic recreations of those two fingers. Within the fake ring finger was a stump that would be revealed when the top was bitten off. “We created a eurothane bone that also was blood-tubed so that she could bite into it and deglove the skin and it bleeds,” Hamer explained.
The actual flesh Russell and Chalamet were chowing down on was made of platinum pure silicone. “It’s stolen from the dental industry, so it’s safe for the mouth. You wouldn’t want to chew a bunch of it and swallow it. But you can get in there and sell the action and then spit take,” Hamer said.
The fake blood was slightly more edible. “We put some syrup, we put some brownies, some cherries, we mixed it all together, and we would always have this bucket of our ‘sweets,’” Perez told me. To determine exactly how someone’s face would look after they chowed down on human flesh, Perez had the idea to buy a bunch of sponges and soak them in the fake blood. She then had the actors bite down on them, which would tell her where to apply the fake blood in between eating takes.
“We decided to bring the sponges on set and do the makeup on set, because blood dries and so it’s better if you do it at the last moment,” she explained. “Sometimes the actors would say, ‘Where’s the sponge, Fernanda?!’”
She also carried around a baby bottle full of the syrupy mix that the actors could drink from and then spit out into a bucket, in order to get the blood realistically coating their teeth and mouths. “It was, ah…,” Perez said. “…disgusting.”