Bone Tomahawk Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by The Works Film Group
Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler
2015, 132 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on 19th February 2016
Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt
Patrick Wilson as Arthur O'Dwyer
Lili Simmons as Samantha O'Dwyer
Matthew Fox as John Brooder
Cowboys, cannibals and Kurt Russell rocking a beard the likes of which we haven't seen since The Thing. After their burial ground is disturbed by a pair of idiot bandits, a tribe of mountain-dwelling cannibals descends upon an unsuspecting frontier town, kidnapping the medic, deputy and horses they find there. Sheriff Franklin Hunt gives chase, leading a ragtag gang of steely-eyed, determined men's men with him. When they can stop arguing among themselves, that is.
Bone Tomahawk has much in common with another favourite movie of mine, the mighty Ravenous – a period setting, pitch black sense of humour, cannibals, gore and David Arquette (a guilty pleasure) – and, as such, feels like one of those rare pieces you get, once in a blue moon, that feels tailor made to you and your sensibilities on every level. That's not to say that you won't enjoy it too; everyone should enjoy Bone Tomahawk, which is best described as The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes, or The Descent. It's a mash-up of the sensibilities of the Coen brothers and Wes Craven by way of Jack Ketchum. Kurt Russell rounds up the cast, but everyone is perfect in their respective roles; Patrick Wilson as wounded cowboy Arthur O'Dwyer, adorable dimwit (backup) deputy Chicory (played by an almost unrecognisable Richard Jenkins) and Matthew Fox, a revelation as dandy gunslinger John Brooder. At 132 minutes, the film's runtime is daunting, but the interplay between the men during that time makes it an absolute joy to behold. “Savages!” barks a characteristically ugly Sid Haig, while scratching at his dick with the barrel of his gun, desecrating a burial ground. Its sense of humour and script is Tarantino-esque, but S. Craig Zahler balances character and story well, leaning fully into its horror machinations for the final act.
And what a final act! All that time we've spent with the bickering, hotheaded, foolish (but steely competent) men pays off as they enter cannibal territory, making us really care for their fates as they are attacked and dragged off like helpless sacks of meat. Here Bone Tomahawk doesn't skimp on the gore or violence, giving us what might be one of the most disturbing kill sequences this year. Like Tarantino, Zahler is too much of an artist to show us everything (one character is slaughtered entirely off-screen) and there's a sense that his action sequences could go further and do more, but that's just me being greedy. There's over two hours of Bone Tomahawk and yet I could have watched so much more.
What it does, it does well enough to paper over certain cracks (namely gunshots which, depending on what the script needs, can either be heard miles away or not at all), its confidence, scale and audacity matching anything we've seen in years. In a strong year for horror, this genre-bending little grindhouse oater effortlessly sidestepped the rest to become my favourite of 2015.
A lengthy, talky horror western pitching grizzled cowboys versus cave-dwelling cannibals, Bone Tomahawk might be a hard sell, but those who buy into its charms surely won't regret a thing. Ye-haw.