“I know the world’s supposed to be round, but I’m not so sure about this part.”
Bone Tomahawk is a horror western, a small subgenre that up until now contained few films of note. I’d say it ends up being about 75% Western, 25% horror but that’s the perfect mix. For for the most part it’s a slow burning trek through mountain ranges and open plains, with exceptional jaunty dialogue between our four very interesting western archetypes. The other part of it is a grisly cannibal story, with bursts of violence that will stick you to your seat in terror. Also it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. Bone Tomahawk is an amazing, well-crafted oddity.
After a burial ground is desecrated by bandits, the small town of Bright Hope is terrorised by a native American tribe. But it’s not any old tribe! The film makes clear (with some exposition from Hanzee from Fargo) that these are not ordinary natives, they are troglodytes. The troglodytes kidnap the wife of old timey crippled cow-poke Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) and it’s up to him and the posse to go after her. The group consists of noble but harsh Sheriff Hunt, played by Kurt Russell sporting that amazing moustache. Chicory the back-up deputy, a hilarious Richard Jenkins playing a lovable codger. And best of all Matthew Fox playing dandy/mercenary/Indian-killer-extraordinaire John Brooder. The characters at first might seem like clichés you’ve seen before, the gruff sheriff, the Indian killer, the wacky old guy etc but they have so much more depth to them than that. Each character is fleshed out and moves away from being typical western tropes. You can sympathise with each one, and the actors all bring career-best performances. Wilson is the relatable one, you want him to get his wife back and you urge him to go on despite his crippled leg. Russell’s Sheriff Hunt might seem mean but he’s really a nice guy who is only concerned with doing what’s right. Matthew Fox is crazy good in it too, makes you wonder why he hasn’t had more roles since Lost. He is the coolest character I’ve seen in some time and Fox has that charm which reminds you why we all loved him as Jack Shepard all those years ago. Look out for a speech from Richard Jenkins towards the end of the film about a flea cirus that once came to town, it is one of the best scenes of dialogue I’ve seen this year.
The dialogue is the most surprising aspect for me. It’s been called Tarantino-esque which I suppose is close. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler has made a career as a writer and it shows, he has such an ear for the language of the time and the witty back and forth that might take place between these four men on the trail. He’s also not afraid to throw in some jokes now and then, which lightens the mood and relieves some of the tension (which reaches near unbearable levels in the third act). Zahler also has experience as a cinematographer which might explain why this film looks so great. Each shot of the gang riding or walking could be a painting or kickass album cover. I highly recommend watching Bone Tomahawk on the biggest screen you can in the highest definition. The Blu-ray is gorgeous, and also comes in a black case instead of the typical blue one for that extra creepy feeling.
The villains of this film are terrifying. The huge cave-dwelling troglodytes reveal themselves with a guttural howl, a sound that will hopefully go down in movie history as one of scariest, most toe-curling sounds ever recorded. The tribe themselves are a threatening sight. Huge, grey monsters with a habit of getting the drop on you. Sudden bursts of violence come out of nowhere in this film. One minute you’re watching them move slowly through the brush and the next there are rocks flying, arrow buried in flesh and limbs missing, all whilst your brain is trying to catch up with what just happened. It’s thrilling to actually be scared for the characters, to not know when the proverbial is about to hit the fan. It isn’t telegraphed with music cues or anything, it happens and the audience are left almost as panicked as the characters.
Like the villains of the movie themselves, there are scenes of violence and gore in this movie that will stick with you for a long time. Even if, like me, you think no blood and guts could gross you out, you will be proven wrong. If there’s one thing I can guarantee in this film it’s that one scene will make everyone wince. It is cool though, in that schlocky b-movie kind of way. And I respect Zahler for coming up with something this gruesome, something to shock even the most hardcore movie fans.
I couldn’t recommend Bone Tomahawk more. Obviously it’s not for everyone. Those with a weak-stomach might want to give it a wide berth, and it can be a slow-burn at times. But it’s a genuinely original western with heart behind the gore. It has a surprisingly upbeat finish and throughout there’s a message of love, and what extremes people will go to save the people they love. The cast is exceptional, the entire production is classy and polished and it’s entertaining above all else.
Bone Tomahawk is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Jack