Bone Tomahawk Review
Rare are the films which attempt to combine two different moods, and emerge successful. Quentin Tarantino is, for instance, a master of this art - his films mix humour and grim violence seamlessly. Bone Tomahawk does the same in its own way. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, the film is deliciously poised between offbeat western and icy horror.
Kurt Russell plays Sheriff Hunt, of the ideally named town of Bright Hope. When several of its inhabitants are mysteriously kidnapped, namely his deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) and Samantha, the town doctor (Lili Simmons), he sets out with three men on a rescue party.
Zahler has written a brilliant script. The dialogue is in turn funny, touching, and grave, characterising the actors perfectly, and dodging stereotypes. Samantha, for instance, is a powerful and resolute, but not in any way fitting the trope of a ‘strong woman’. Richard Jenkins’ Chicory provides timely comic relief as a member of the rescue group, but is not without depth. In fact, Zahler has a remarkable feel for speech, conveying a distinct sense of personality even in characters who have but a few lines.
Despite its grave mission, the rescue team makes an entertainingly eccentric group. The conflicting personalities of each of the men generates an amusing back and forth, even if the subject matter of their arguments is deadly serious. Matthew Fox as Brooder is impeccable as a dandy with precise methods of survival; while Patrick Wilson in the role of Arthur, Samantha’s husband, is an intriguing mix of religion, intelligence, and emotional trauma.
Zahler uses nifty devices to ramp up the tension. The first three quarters of the film are a lot like the nervous chatter you might have before facing a terrifying task. The pseudo-relaxed conversations of the group builds up anticipation almost unnoticed, and only when the characters get close to their aim, do we feel its full force. And there, the tone completely and successfully shifts into horror. Because of this change, it’s difficult to expect what might happen - we have no genre formula to guide us. The scenes of cannibalism are, as a result, all the more gutting (sorry).
The story is backed throughout by beautiful cinematography, capturing the region’s dry, shrubbery mountains and breathless, never-ending horizons. It likely doesn’t hurt Zahler himself worked as a director of photography before taking on writing/directing.
Bone Tomahawk is all in all, an awesome film: a mad blend of quirky dialogue and grim, nail-biting tension. It's backed by an extraordinary ensemble performance, with Kurt Russell consolidating his well-earned place as western grandee. A must-watch.