Bone Tomahawk Review

Bone Tomahawk (2015) Movie Review by John Walsh

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Stars: Kurt Russell,  Patrick Wilson,  Matthew Fox

I’m going to state right off the bat that I enjoy good westerns, something of a guilty pleasure of mine, and also a slow burning, psychological horror. With that in mind, it would be fair to say that I highly enjoyed the perfect blend of both those genres in Bone Tomahawk by S. Craig Zahler. It’s got something rare to find in most modern films and that’s originality. It’s not the most complicated story you’ll ever encounter, but it’s extremely well written and features some fantastic performances across the board.

It gets the introductions of the quartet we’ll be following for the overwhelming majority of the film out the way early, but not before opening with a gut wrenching, gruesome, throat slitting scene carried out at the hands of a brigand double team. The brutal violence, not in any way suitable for children I hasten to add, and punchy dialogue perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the film. One of the men enquiringly pondering “why do they always wet themselves?”, before being given a lecture and then eventually setting off with his more elderly partner in crime on a death march straight into a savage, troglodyte settlement.

The troglodytes, a particularly nasty branch of cannibalistic ones nonetheless, are the main villains of the piece if you will and their murder of a stable boy, abduction of three ‘civilised’ folk from an unnamed town on the frontier of the Wild West acts as the catalyst for the story. As previously mentioned, we meet the leading protagonists prior to this daring attack, which include; Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), Arthur (Patrick Wilson), Brooder (Matthew Fox) and Chicory (Richard Jenkins). They quickly decide that with time against them, a hasty departure is necessary if the lives of the abductees are to be saved, during a tense meeting at ‘The Learned Goat’ (the local bar) and with the helpful advice of a Native American guide/expert, they are soon made aware of the settlement location before heading out almost at once.

The vast majority of this film encompasses the groups journey out into and through the Wild West and the variety of challenges they encounter throughout. It almost harkened up memories of the Lord of the Rings books/films in a strange way, with its likewise ton of travelling, interrupted by intermittent, but regular enough, bouts of violence. I can assure that this doesn’t get boring at any stage, at least not for me, which is in no small part down to the consistently excellent dialogue and chemistry shared between the four men. This isn’t a fast paced film, but the slow burning nature works well, with the dialogue heavy scenes and well developed characters really allowing an effective bond to be created. I honestly cared about these men by the end when things took an inevitable nasty turn.

Kurt Russell was just fantastic in this film. You come to expect these performances from the man and, as I’ve previously written whilst reviewing Hell or High Water, I don’t think there’s another actor on this planet that can do realistic, grisly, hard as nails, characters like Kurt. Matthew Fox’s was actually my favourite performance in this film, however, with his portrayal of Brooder. His cynical outlook on life and deadpan delivery of dialogue was hilarious, but he also had quite a sad backstory which gets fleshed out as the film progresses. Richard Jenkins was hilarious as the slow witted, but well meaning, Chicory. His character provided regular laughs with his often inappropriate ramblings, which helped lighten the tone of what is a pretty grim film. Finally, Patrick Wilson also shone as Arthur; a man on a mission, who displays real determination whilst battling through emotional and physical pain.

It’s funny in a way, because throughout the film we continuously hear remakes about how the civilised folk are smarter than the troglodytes and yet when it finally comes to the confrontation, the shit well in truly hits the fan, as the supposed dumb, savages, mount some fierce, quick-fire attacks that startle and quickly overpower the group. Their sheer size and muscular builds are intimidating, whilst the eerie, ear piercing alien-esque calls they make lend to the horror aspect of the film nicely. Without giving much else away, I’ll just say that there’s a particular scene around this point that is up there with some of the most gruesome that I’ve witnessed and the vengeance meted out afterwards is deeply satisfying. I actually fist pumped when Hunt got tore in. That’s all I’ll give away, because this film needs to be enjoyed in the moment if you haven’t seen it before.

If you’re a fan of westerns, horror or even Kurt Russell then get this watched immediately. Zahler, between both his direction and writing, has produced a really, really good film here. I’m only sorry that it’s taken me so long to watch it, despite having it recommended to me around its release. I’ll give a quick honourable mention to the understated, almost muted, string heavy score which really worked well in this film and also the beautiful cinematography, not to mention, immaculate period costume design prevalent throughout. One particular wide shot was incredibly cool as the quartet headed out into a dusty, desert horizon with Chicory questioning whether the earth was really flat or not. Anyway, without rambling on any more, I once again implore you to watch this excellent western.

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