Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Kurt Russel, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons and Richard Jenkins
Recent years have seen a Western revival of sorts going on. The massive success of the Coen Brothers’ True Grit re-imagining and Tarantino’s rambunctious Django Unchained seems to have spurned this on, with everyone from the big studios to indie productions throwing their cowboy hat into the ring. Results have varied from the Seth McFarlene’s dire excuse for a genre spoof, A Million Ways to Die in the West, to John Maclean’s awesome directorial debut Slow West. Just like with the indie Horror bomb in recent years, new talent has been coming up with ways to make a genre nearly as old as cinema itself feel fresh, as today’s film demonstrates.
Bone Tomahawk is the brainchild of seasoned writer – first time director S. Craig Zahler. Its story is as classic a tale as one could be imagine. On a frontier town in the 1890s, a man and woman are kidnapped by couple of strangers in town, leading to a posse of four men to ride out to rescue them. So far, so John Ford, but Bone Tomahawk is no Channel 5 mid afternoon film. Without giving too much away, the aforementioned strangers in town are not bandits or Indians, but cannibals. Bone Tomahawk is just as much a Horror Film as it is a Western, and is a supreme example of genre mash-up that doesn’t feel forced or gimmicky.
A great deal of Bone Tomahawk feels minimalist. There’s very little music. Like, any great Horror or Western, it has a slow build up. We spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, and all of them are well defined with great personalities brought to life by the brilliant cast. Snake Plissken himself, Kurt Russel, is as bad ass as he’s ever been as Sheriff Franklin Hunt. Richard Jenkins provides great comic relief as the decrepit, motor-mouth deputy Chicory (a memorable moment sees him randomly debating on the logistics of a flea circus after a particularly violent display of bloodshed). Matthew Fox plays the slimy gentleman gunslinger John Brooder, who considers himself superior to the other men because “smart men don’t get married”. Rounding out the posse is Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dowey, a man refusing to let a little thing like a a broken get in the way of him riding out to rescue his beloved wife. And Lilli Simmons is no mere damsel in distress as Samantha O’Dowey, a woman unafraid to berate her would be – rescuers for some of their more questionable decisions.
The slow pace of Bone Tomahawk might put off some viewers. This is a film that takes its time, letting the viewer get to know the characters and the world, which just makes the second half of the film all the more terrifying. In the final act, Bone Tomahawk feels like the characters from a John Ford Western have entered into a torture porn film. The violence is extremely brutal, and no one is safe. Characters who might consider sacred cows in a standard western are fair game here. An equal parts engaging and grisly debut, I look forward to seeing what Zahler will follow this with.