Director: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, David Arquette
Plot: Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) leads a group of men on a quest to rescue some townsfolk from some cannibalistic tribal kidnappers.
Bone Tomahawk could be the sleeper hit of the year. A gruesome cross between Western and bloody horror action, newcomer director S. Craig Zahler takes great pleasure in blending the genres to his movie, so the audience is never quite sure what is going to come next.
For example, it opens with one of the most gruesome throat slices I have witnessed in cinematic history. What follows is a complete genre shift, where the two murderers are set upon by ‘something’ in a creepy ritual sight. The chilling horror vibes set in, questions thrown up in the air. We need to know what that creepy, shadowy, impossibly tall figure was. However, for the next hour, we are given a slow-burning character piece, more focus on cracking dialogue and careful cinematography than anything else. This is where Bone Tomahawk becomes a bit of a marmite film, its refusal to truly embrace the gore-fest side of things sure to piss off a few horror purists. However, for those that buy into the central four characters, the slow approach to this movie is sure to please. The movie introduces its characters with drawn-out, patience testing scenes, but these slower beats help make the characters we are going to be spending time with feel much more prominent and worthwhile to spend time with. Lili Simmons benefits very well from the lengthy opening, as her character’s primary job is sadly, damsel in distress. When the movie deems it right to move on from the sleepy Western town, it re-introduces its villains, still in their shadowy, unseen form, who rush into the town in the middle of the night, taking a prisoner, the deputy and Lili Simmons. The Sheriff raises three men to track the kidnappers and bring back their hostages, taking them on a perilous five day trek across a hazardous landscape. And when they reach the tribe holding the prisoners, have they any idea what nightmares wait for them on the other end?
The cast are on fine form, led by Kurt Russell, an actor who seems in no rush to move on from the Western genre, after two successful stints as the grizzly lawman figure. By his side, is his elderly back-up deputy, Richard Jenkins, who could have just been the filler character, an addition just to round up numbers, but a finely-tuned, quietly comical performance makes the character a likeable, essential side of the story. His character has a habit of rambling on about inconsequential things during the darkest of times that acts as a wonderful upbeat moment for both the characters and the audience, as the dark tone of the film begins to creep towards over-gloomy. Matthew Fox is the keen sharpshooter, whose straight-faced ‘take-no-prisoners, love-no-one’ attitude marks him as the douchebag of the group, but his precision and reflexes make him the one man you want on your side, when the action creeps up on them. There is also one nice beat with a dying horse that Matthew Fox uses to add weight to his stock character. Besides, the story cleverly references that just for embarking on this suicide mission to save a group of people, he can’t be as bad as his rough exterior makes him out to be. Finally, there is Patrick Wilson. He plays Lili Simmons’ husband, a foreman off work, due to a broken leg. He has no place trekking through the rough desert, but his stubbornness and determination makes him a hard man to turn down. Wilson is the warm centre of the movie, a symbol of the American spirit that drives Bone Tomahawk. He is also one of the more interesting characters, because of his disability. When he reaches hostile territory, his battles are the more gripping, because of his stationary fighting position.
And when the finale kicks in, Bone Tomahawk is essential viewing. The action is abrupt, but powerful. When the tribe finally shows itself, they do it with such speed and power, it is hard to focus on what you are seeing. The violence is so brief yet graphic that by the time the horror of what you have seen sinks in, the scene has already moved on. It means that the director can class his movie as a horror, without needed to spend too long filling up his movie with cheap tricks and schlocky horror movie staples. Perhaps the low budget and tight shooting schedule (the entire film was shot in a mere 21 days!), means that the ending doesn’t quite have the action set-piece we secretly crave, but Bone Tomahawk finds other ways to shock. It goes to bloody places, some scenes so horrifically bloody that it will either delight or send you scampering into another room. The film dares you to guess how it will end, creating an unpredictable thrill ride, until its quiet, yet elegant ending.
Final Verdict: Slow-burning, yet powerful and violently terrific. Not for the weak-hearted, but the rough edges hide a warm centre.