Bones Tomahawk is a western horror staring Kurt Russell, as Sheriff Hunt, who leads a band of men out into the dessert to rescue three townspeople who have been kidnapped by Indians. Early on in the movie we learn that these Indians are not normal, unnatural even, and as such their mission has a low likelihood of success. True to the western mode, the movie being more western than horror, Bone Tomahawk is slow, measured and full of honor bound men facing hardship. For example, Patrick Wilson, who plays Arthur, is the husband of one of the kidnapped women who embarks on this rescue mission with a broken leg.
Also the dialogue superb. Think Deadwood or Justified. The lines are perfectly crafted and delivered in a way that is perfectly highlights the ongoing pissing match between these men through the dialogue instead of a physical altercation. At the same time you also get that when it comes down to it these men also have each others back as they only have each other in this unforgiving environment. These men care about each other and understand that the focus of their mission is larger then their squabbles.
Quick side note, why is Timothy Olyphant not in every western? Don’t get me wrong Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins all give fantastic performances but, like John Wayne, Olyphant was made for the western. Just look at his track record, Deadwood, Justified, The Crazies, the voice of the Spirit of the West in Rango. You know I’m right.
My only critique of the movie is the horror piece of it. The horror comes in when the rescue party finally meets up with the cannibalistic cave-dwelling Indian creatures. There is such a dramatic tonal shift, going from that of John Ford to Eli Roth, that it took me out of the movie. Shortly after the group is captured we see the cannibals strip a man naked, hang him upside down and start hacking away until he is split in half. This is meant to mirror field dressing an animal but comes across so cartoon-ish. Up until that point Bone Tomahawk had been grounded in the westerns genre and while the movie hints at the horror to come it is much more “graphic” than what has been hinted at. What’s worse is that the camera is placed taint level for the hacking scene and lingers there so you’re not quite sure it this should be funny or horrifying.
I will admit that I am not a gorehound. That is not to say that I find it to gross, I just never find it believable. The prosthetic props always look so fake when the camera luxuriates over these violent acts. I find the scene in Saw where Dr. Gordon cuts off his own foot a more effecting scene, as we are focused on his face left to infer/imagine the pain and horror before him, than anything in Hostile where we are shown every gruesome, torturous detail. (The gore effects in Turbo Kid are more my speed; though that movie also nails its tone.) I feel the gore piece of Bone Tomahawk was added to set the movie apart and in that respect it has certainly does.
Bone Tomahawk is definitely worth seeing if for nothing else than the dialogue. It’s the directorial debut of S. Craig Zahler and the second film that he has written. He’s a writer/director to that I’m excited to see what he does next.