Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, David Arquette
Only one other western in recent memory has combined elements of horror, although Ron Howard’s The Missing never took the gruesome route S. Craig Zahler delivers here. Bone Tomahawk is a curious and niche project that appears very authentic in how it presents the west. Zahler roots his original screenplay in uncomfortable dark humor. From the opening scene to the final moments of the 2+ hour film, Bone Tomahawk carves out something very specific and unique in the dying genre. The pace of the film might drive some viewers away, it’s similar to The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford in that aspect, but it’s the climactic capture scene that might turn over so many stomachs everything prior is ruined
A man calling himself Buddy (Arquette) strolls into town and raises alarm with the sheriff’s deputy Chicory (Jenkins). There isn’t much haste to Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell), mostly because Chicory is a bumbling fool, and nothing serious ever happens in this dusty old town. Sheriff puts the cocky and aloof visitor in prison, but not before wounding him. The next morning the prisoner, the second deputy and the nurse are all missing from the jail with a single arrow shot in the wall. Sheriff and a small band of men head towards an ancient burial ground to rescue the abducted, but local Indian civilians warn that these captors are not Indians, instead cannibalistic cave dwellers.
Carves out something very specific and unique in the dying genre.
Bone Tomahawk both reinvents the modern western with its subject matter and violent themes, yet also preserves the important genre aesthetics. Shot on location in California, there is a beautiful quality to the film which is stunningly realized by cinematographer Benji Bakshi. There is little composed score which makes the dawn out minutes seem longer. Zahler has funny characters, often saying ironic things, but this isn’t a comedy. Russell is perfectly cast and delivers as the calm and steadfast Sheriff, although Jenkins disappears in the role of the fool, his performance adds to the audience anxiety. The ever present eerie quality of the film might be too stressful for some, scenes of action happen without any warning, so it’s easy to miss something if you are not paying attention. However, this also might be a film you want to watch at home, with the lights on.
The films biggest problem is how the gruesome, sadistic violence in one particular scene casts a cloud over everything else. There is no way to remember this film without recalling up this one brutal slaying. You won’t find anything more disturbing in mainstream cinema this year, it’s literally painful to watch. The ending, which I won’t spoil, might not be the satisfactory conclusion, an audience willing to endure all two hours, were hoping for. Bone Tomahawk plays by its own set of rules and except for the violence delivers an artistic quality western that should please fans of the genre and appease those looking for thrills and suspense.
If you can stomach the gore, it’s a thrilling adventure.