During its festival run, Bone Tomahawk was showered with praise from viewers and critics alike. That is hardly surprising when your cast is comprised of Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, while lesser roles are filled with genre favorites like Sid Haig. However, at a run time that surpasses the 2 hour mark, many have questioned the pacing of the film. Furthermore, the filmmakers are asking horror fans to accept the Western backdrop, or for Old-West fans to stomach the horror elements. It would be easy for Bone Tomahawk to fall flat, yet it does nothing of the sort.
The opening sequence of the film gives you a small taste of what lies in wait. Sid Haig and David Arquette are two wandering highwaymen, neither of which are strangers to violence. We’re tossed into the middle of situation, and it doesn’t end well. After this opening scene, we move into classic Spaghetti Western territory. The plot isn’t all that different from the John Wayne film The Searchers or even the Tommy Lee Jones film The Missing. A savage tribe (known as the Troglodytes) have raided the town, killed some folks, and kidnapped others. A small, diverse group of men set out to save or avenge those taken. It’s this way for 90 minutes, and I might have checked out had it not been for the dialogue. Yes, the dialogue.
The banter between characters is amazing. We’re talking Tarantino or Kevin Smith level of witty conversations. For 90 minutes almost nothing happens, yet I felt thoroughly engaged. You’re learning about these characters as we go; their quirks and motivations. In the case of Richard Jenkins, you’re learning that the guy could read the phone book to you and make it funny (do they still have those?). Nothing feels forced or contrived. They’re all vastly different in their personalities and they all feel like they genuinely belong to the setting. It’s a true testament to what good writing and acting can do for immersion. If you’re more of the action-packed Furious 7 kind of viewer, go ahead and mosey on along.
Despite being 90 minutes of character development, the last 30 minutes of Bone Tomahawk shed the pretense of classic Western and go full-blown horror. You better hope grandma and grandpa didn’t put this on because they saw Kurt Russell was in another Western. There were several, very intense “stank-faces” made towards the end by me. I ate a sandwich while watching The Green Inferno, yet I did a cough-gag after one of the execution scenes. It’s brutal, graphic, and at moments hard to watch, all while avoiding the pretentious “look how crazy we were willing to get” vibe. As an audience, we were told that these people were savages, and the film delivers on that promise.
There aren’t a lot of amazing or grand moments of cinematography, nor will the sound design keep you up at night wondering what that bump was. From a technical standpoint, Bone Tomahawk is a fairly basic film. Point the camera, shoot the scene. Director and writer S. Craig Zahler chose to rely on strong performances from his actors and use solid dialogue to make this movie work. There is certainly some strong symbolism sprinkled throughout the film, but a straightforward viewing is all that is required. I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile. Hell, the desire to decode the film may even convince me to stomach the later portion one more time.
Bone Tomahawk is available everywhere today! (10/23/15) Buy/Rent on iTunes right here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bone-tomahawk/id1041641970
Bone Tomahawk [Review]
Bone Tomahawk dares to genre-meld, all while relying on acting and dialogue. You might start to wonder where the horror is, but there will be no doubts left at the end.