bone_tomahawk_5Year: 2015
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Writer(s): S. Craig Zahler
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 133 mins

Synopsis: Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers. (Source)

Kurt Russell, cowboys, cannibals – if the combination of those three things don’t get you instantly excited, then this isn’t your kind of movie. For the rest of us, Bone Tomahawk is an unpredictable blend of horror-tinged western, gradually transforming within each scene to create a story that frankly dances to its own twisted rhythm. If you’re a fan of westerns, S. Craig Zahler’s got you covered, and yet the film features a third act so grizzly, it’ll easily put a few extreme horror films to shame. By manipulating mythology and classic tropes, Zahler’s created an immensely satisfying slow burn, one that showcases an incredible set of characters and a confident genre mashup that’s just too cool to pass up.

The story centers on the residents of a small town called Bright Hope. When a mysterious drifter comes into their world, he sets off a series of events resulting in the abduction of a small group of townsfolk. Leaving behind a mutilated body and a specific type of arrow, the kidnappers expose themselves as a mythical tribe of “troglodytes”, with no name and a reputation for feasting on human flesh. On their tail is the town’s sheriff, Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), who vows to find the abductees at any cost. He saddles up, bringing along a group of mismatched companions: Chicory (Richard Jenkins), the elderly backup Deputy with a heart of gold, John Brooder (Matthew Fox), a hotheaded gunslinger and Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), an injured man who will stop at nothing to get his wife back. As they track their dangerous prey, the four men are pushed to their limits and bond over a primal instinct for survival.

Really, what makes Zahler’s film so entertaining (besides the loving mixture of genres) is its blend of fun characters and the exploration of what makes them tick in such an unforgivable world. It can be said that while the plot builds casually towards its explosive climax, most of the journey feels very much like a hangout film, with our four main characters traversing a volatile environment for different reasons. They each have something to prove to themselves and each other, and that’s refreshingly as important as the gruesome payoff. Along the way, bursts of violence punctuate moments of candid rapport, replete with witty dialogue and a cast who slips fully into their contrasting roles. Zahler’s ability to balance disarming moments of solidarity and a progressive undercurrent of dread make the sudden and final torrent of terror that much more intense.

bone_tomahawk_4Sticking to four main characters almost exclusively allows some incredible performances to breathe and take hold. Headlining the entire thing of course is Kurt Russell’s determined Sheriff Hunt. Russell, an undisputed fan favorite brings his gravitas to the roll, yet still makes Hunt feel down to earth and approachable. He builds a character that we don’t want to get on the wrong side of, and one who will stop at nothing to do what he believes is right. He’s an archetype for sure, but having Russell flesh him out is a huge asset. The real surprise here is Richard Jenkins as Hunt’s right hand, Deputy Chicory. Jenkins is never one to disappoint, but he really shines here, getting most of the film’s more memorable character moments. Whether he’s figuring out how to read a book while taking a bath or reminiscing about his dead wife, there’s an innocence and sincerity to him which singlehandedly gives the film its heart – not to mention, his comedic timing and deadpan delivery are brilliant. Matthew Fox’s Brooder and Patrick Wilson’s O’Dwyer round out the film and are good within their own right, but are mostly playing to type.

Bone Tomahawk takes familiarity and bends it just far enough to where it feels new. Whether you choose to view the story as a western or a survival horror film, it succeeds at both. It also adds a memorably frightening tribe of savage villains to the already crowded horror pantheon – there’s a really cool design to them that’s primal, yet with slightly mythical flourishes. Objectively, some of the film could’ve been truncated, but there’s still plenty to love and it’s a solid debut through and through. If you come for the Russell, the cave-dwelling nasties or the gunplay, you won’t be disappointed, making this a win-win from virtually every angle.

SG