Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons
Review by Jordan
Opening with a closeup that will cause many to turn away, revealed to be perpetrated by despicable, murderous thieves casually played by especially grimy-looking cult actors David Arquette and Sid Haig (of Ravenous and The Devil’s Rejects notoriety respectively), Bone Tomahawk intentionally positions itself to be misread before settling into it’s slower, tension-laden groove in the coming scenes.
When the wife of Arthur (Patrick Wilson), the local rancher of frontier town Bright Hope, is kidnapped by a tribe of cannabilistic savages so evil-natured none dare enter their domain, he insists on traveling with Sheriff Hurt (Russell) to find her and bring her home before she meets an indescribable death. Accompanying them are back-up deputy Chicory (Jenkins), whose usefulness is in conflict with his age, and wealthy intellectual Brooder (Fox), whose appearance hides the vengeful and callous endeavour needed to survive in such a hostile environment. Arthur’s badly crippled leg is a foreteller of the crippling path ahead of them, leading to an enemy more beast than man who will tear them apart without reason or hesitation.
The basic plot is standard western fare, but when combined with elements of high-impact horror and a sparse post-production design, what emerges is an experimental film that won’t be for everyone but offers such a unique experience for those seeking something different. First time director S. Craig Zahler opts for a naturalistic approach, with a handheld camera look used for indoor scenes and an absence of cinematic cues, but his most contentious decision is to completely forgo use of music in favour of claustrophobic silence. This can work well for some narratives, but the final act in particular begs for a score, as does the largely unseen raid that ignites the proceedings.
It is the moments of confrontation in which his style truly succeeds. Arrows and bullets hit their mark with bone-crunching realism in encounters that last just seconds at a time, and none bemoan their fate but rather accept it; in this place all have killed and will probably be killed and to dramatise that would also be to glorify it.
Sporting his impressive beard, Kurt Russell’s performance sits nicely alongside his more recognised effort in The Hateful Eight, and he is joined in the impressive acting stakes by Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins. Fox in particular is a standout, owning his character’s cold and mysterious persona without taking his slight instability too far. Patrick Wilson tries valiently to give the determined Arthur worth, but unfortunately he is let down by lacklustre scripting and his core scenes grow tiresome; a shame given his importance to the film’s emotional core.
Bone Tomahawk is gritty, unflinching and most certainly horrific, and has the distinction of being quite unlike anything else it could be compared to. Though slightly lacking in some key areas, it’s quirks will ultimately be coupled with it’s unqualified successes and I’m confident 2015 has given cinema a future cult classic.