“Bone Tomahawk” Movie Review

Who knew that a Western starring Kurt Russell could be so damn brutal? Produced on a modest budget of $1.8 million, this western-horror hybrid premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse Fantastic Fest in September of 2015, before receiving a simultaneous release in theaters and video on demand on October 23rd. This likely led to it only grossing about $232,800 worldwide, despite it’s relatively stacked cast. The film marks the directorial debut of western and crime novelist S. Craig Zahler. He apparently had experience in screenwriting beforehand, but this was the first one under his singular vision. Set somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, the story follows a small town called Bright Hope which is being terrorized by a mysterious tribe of cannibals. After a few townsfolk go missing, Sheriff Franklin Hunt assembles a hunting party to track down the savages and bring their people home. In my search of horror films to review in the time of Halloween, I decided to shake things up a bit and add a little interesting flavor to the mix. We don’t get to see many Westerns anymore, let alone ones that are hybrids of other genres. The latter examples that do exist are mostly just mixed in with sci-fi, but they’re usually terrible like Jonah Hex and Cowboys and Aliens. But I had heard some positive buzz about this little gem as well as the director’s newest film Brawl in Cell Block 99, so I was very curious to see what he could cook up with this particular recipe. And I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it by myself in the middle of the night on Amazon Prime. It is truly disturbing but my God is it entertaining and fun to watch. By far my favorite aspect of Bone Tomahawk was how well-written and believable the dialogue was. Being written by a novelist, Zahler has a clear understanding of how people in this time period talked. The civilized folk uses fancy words while low scumbags speak like they have only a few words in their lexicon. There a few lines that I still remember and think about quoting in casual conversations. It’s that great. A veteran of Westerns like Tombstones and The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell is a perfect fit for the lead role of Sheriff Hunt. With the usually gruff and rugged nature of a Western protagonist, he is a decent man forced into a terrible situation. Richard Jenkins plays his backup deputy perfectly, proving yet again why’s such a great character actor. Being the eldest member of the party, his wisdom is very welcome in the darkest of moments. One particular monologue he gives about his past at a flea circus is one bit of levity audiences will need. Patrick Wilson plays an understated foreman with a broken leg, desperate to save his wife, Lili Simmons, from these monsters. Lastly, former Lost star Matthew Fox is surprisingly excellent as John Brooder, a gentleman with an ego looking for an opportunity to boost. Although some of the things he says and does make him seem unlikable, we grow a certain admiration for him, thanks in no small part to his charisma and looks. The technical aspects of it all are fairly impressive as well, given its modest budget. The cinematography by Benji Bakishi chooses to mute certain colors to make the film look more desolate. It captures all of the action in wide shots, especially because of the Roger Deakins-esque use of lighting. And while it’s edited very well and precise by Greg D’Auria and Fred Raskin, it sure does takes its sweet time with some long takes. But the costumes and sets are all authentic, truly capturing a lived-in environment of a time long gone. Each of the actors seems comfortable in their outfits and seeing them riding through the desert landscape on horseback is pretty enticing. Alongside Jeff Herriot, Zahler himself composes the musical score, which is very sparse. In fact, to my knowledge, there are only 3 or 4 separate tracks in the entire movie, only used when needed. It’s mostly just a background compilation of moody violins and off-kilter percussion that really sell the vibe of the story. Most surprisingly, the two of them are pretty unsentimental in the music department, but still, keep the viewer engaged in a thoroughly oppressive atmosphere. Did I mention that this movie is brutal? That would be an inappropriate word to accurately describe the whole experience. Synonyms such as dirty, harsh, unforgiving, cold, gross, horrifying, and vile could also potentially work. It is by far the most violent Western I have ever seen and that’s because you really grow to hate the villains. They are cannibals without any compassion who do utterly repulsive things to our heroes. There is one scene near the end of the movie which is truly, unimaginably evil. I’m glad I didn’t eat anything beforehand, and I’m curious to show it to friends and family who haven’t seen it yet. I won’t spoil it just in case, but if you had seen my face when it happened…*shudders* Although its slower pace and unusual genre blend won’t be for everyone, Bone Tomahawk is a bold fusion of stark genres that’s utterly remorseless yet captivating. Despite its graphic content and harsh tone, you can’t help but hope for these characters no matter what. Featuring one of the most climactic endings to any Western I’ve seen, don’t let it slip by on Halloween season. It’s not for those seeking something completely tame in content, but maybe give it a shot.

Related image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s