Cult Cinema: Bones (2001) - Reviewed

An avenging spirit story distilled through a hip hop filter of late 90's mystique and steeped in blaxploitation references, Bones is another solid entry in Ernest Dickerson's eclectic catalog of cultural cautionary tales. Featuring Dickerson's trademark aesthetics, a hilarious central performance by Snoop Dogg, and intricately detailed flashbacks sequences, Bones is an urban ghost story that overcomes its plethora of flaws to deliver creepy visuals, a funk infused soundtrack, and a great middle of the week distraction for horror fans,

Snoop Dogg stars as the eponymous Jimmy Bones, a ghetto messiah whose death has become a chilling urban legend. Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe's script presents the neighborhood as a transient graveyard, filled with victims of the crack epidemic and lined with vacant tenements that serve as headstones. The narrative involves a split timeline, focusing on the past and present. The historical scenes are the best part of Bones, featuring outstanding vintage costume designs by Dana Campbell and detailed art direction by Gary Myers. Bones's inner sanctum, a posh brownstone is the centerpiece, with its historical incarnation representing the extravagance of the over indulgent blaxploitation films of the 70's while its modern counterpart is a rotting husk of shattered dreams. 

The soundtrack features a west coast all star gathering of rap personalities, with Snoop's own "Jimmy's Revenge" stealing the show with a deft cover of James Brown's "The Big Payback, a perfect summation of the film's melding of time periods. Flavio Labiano's cinematography frames both past and present with slick compositions bathed in midnight blacks and vibrant crimsons. Remarkable camera angles use every available sight trick in the book to evoke terror once Bones begins his rampage. Shadows seem to come alive and every room inside the brownstone is a hell unto itself. 

It is these strengths that allow the film to overcome so many obvious weaknesses. Dogg himself lacks the charisma to be a lead because it is his laid back casualness that defines his public persona. The cast is filled with archetypes rather than personalities. Crooked cops and disloyal gangsters are aplenty, running alongside the typical slate of teenage victims as they hurry to meet their grizzly fates at the hands of their copacetic killer. Black cinema icon Pam Grier has a fun turn as a psychic which infuses the otherwise stiff proceedings with some occult nonsense which enhances the vibe that Bones desperately strives to achieve. 


Available now for digital rental, Bones is a surprisingly well made horror film that suffers from a shallow script with unremarkable characters. Dickerson's directorial skill sidesteps the narrative hamstrings by creating a supernatural snapshot of a dying city, filled with haunting visuals and a playfully malevolent mythology.

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-Kyle Jonathan