S. Craig Zahler
- Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt
- Richard Jenkins as Chicory
- Matthew Fox as John Brooder
- Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dwyer
- Lili Simmons as Samantha O’Dwyer
- David Arquette as Purvis
A grisly, well-paced and unexpectedly successful blend of horror and western, Bone Tomahawk is an impressive directorial debut from S. Craig Zahler that will leave a mark on viewers in search for something a little off kilter.
It’s the Old West and into the town of Bright Hope stumbles a thieving drifter sporting the name Buddy, but hiding his real name of Purvis. He lost his other comrade in pick pocketing when they trespassed on to unfamiliar territory and he met a brutal end. Caught acting suspiciously by the deputy Sheriff Chicory, Purvis is confronted by Sheriff Franklin Hunt about his behaviour and intentions. The conversation ends with Hunt putting a bullet in Purvis’ leg and hauling him into jail. As his gunshot wound gets worse and with the local doctor drunk, Hunt calls upon the doctor’s assistant Samantha, who is also the wife of injured foreman Arthur O’Dwyer, to help with the wound. She is kept company by Deputy Nick for the night. Yet when it comes to the morning, there is no sign of Samantha, Deputy Nick or Purvis to be found. And when the body of a young stable boy is found brutally butchered and an arrow is found in the jail cell, Hunt calls in a Native American man to help them with their search and what they could be up against. It transpires that in the caves that lie five days journey away, there lives a tribe of cannibals who kill all who enter. Realizing that they are the ones who kidnapped Samantha and the others, authoritative Hunt rounds up men to aid him on a mission to rescue her before it’s too late. Journeying with him is loyal Chicory, mercenary gunslinger John Brooder and Samantha’s crippled husband Arthur. The unlikely quartet travel on an arduous journey that is cruel and unforgiving. As supplies begin to dwindle, Arthur’s injury worsens and they start to get ever closer to the caves, none of the men are prepared for the savagery that will await them.
S. Craig Zahler crafts one hell of a debut with this ballsy horror-western that successfully builds tension as the journey of the quartet gets darker and darker. Considering this is his debut, Zahler shows a striking amount of confidence in his direction that shows that this guy could have a very bright future ahead of him if he churns out movies like this one. While it is a horror movie, the gore and violence are not overused a lot. This in turn ensures that when carnage does rear its head, we are left shocked because it comes out of nowhere and really knows how to pack a punch with grisly intent. There is one particular scene that will test even the least squeamish people due to its brutality and shock. Yet the horror doesn’t overtake everything, and the western side of the movie forms a lot of it. Zahler, who also wrote the script, blends dark, wry humour throughout Bone Tomahawk, adding another layer of unpredictability and eccentricity to the brew. The score of the film is sparse, which brings more attention to the journey through arid landscapes and harsh terrain. Yet when the score is used, the menace reverberates from the screen.
The main quartet of actors in Bone Tomahawk are perfectly cast and fill their roles with style and full-blooded presence. Heading the proceedings is Kurt Russell, who cuts a weathered, gruff and authoritative figure as Sheriff Hunt, the natural-born leader of the posse on the rescue mission. This is a man who cares about the people of his town and rather than being happy to go attack anything that comes his way, he is more pragmatic and takes head of the situation first. Really stealing the show is Richard Jenkins, with his blend of experience and sense of humour. Portraying the second in command, Jenkins excels at showing how Chicory tries to boost morale, even in the face of danger but is no fool in the slightest. Matthew Fox is mightily impressive as the well-dressed John Brooder, whose penchant is boasting about how many Indians he has killed. Essaying the role with a coldness and swaggering peacock walk, Fox really owns it. As the injured but not broken Arthur, whose determination to continue is in the hope of reclaiming his wife, Patrick Wilson crafts a character of substance. Not letting injury get in his way, Arthur pushes his body through the pain barrier with only faith to guide him on the harsh journey. Wilson does a tremendous job at showing his plight to save his wife and how he will never give up, even if it kills him in the process. In the brief but pivotal roles of the kidnapped Samantha and mysterious drifter, Lili Simmons and David Arquette are excellently cast.
A triumph of genre melding that brims with engaging characters, just the right amount of blood and cynical dashes of humour, Bone Tomahawk takes its place as an unusual but highly effective film that is hard to forget due to its journey into the Old West with a few sharp twists along the dark way it treads.