REVIEW: Bone Tomahawk

A great western that is in turn engaging and horrific.

Studios have apparently decided that audiences have little interest in westerns. Well I do, and I sure as hell am glad people keep making them.

Bone Tomahawk opens with a scene of a man waking up with a knife to his neck. The sound of his throat being cut sets the mood for the rest of the film. The violence and brutality of this movie is horrific. It’s balanced out with a great script and likeable characters that make the whole thing highly engaging and entertaining. There’s a lot of funny dialogue here that feels appropriate, drawing you in and making the eventual horror that much more effective.

For much of its run time the movie plays as a straight western, and even if it were just that, it would be great. The movie both understands the tropes of the genre and is smart enough to execute them well. Westerns work off of classic tropes, the movie doesn’t break what isn’t broken. The script is excellent, dialogue is natural and funny. Everyone feels like a real person.

This is a story about saving a man’s wife and the town’s deputy who have been abducted. Classic western material except that they’ve been kidnapped by cannibalistic troglodytes who only communicate through piercing wails. These creepy bestial men who want to devour out protagonists is where the film stops being a classic western and delves into horror. The frontier can be a brutal place, where violence is commonplace and we get a good taste of that, but nothing quite prepares you for seeing a man butchered alive so that he can be eaten.

The four men are the Sheriff (Kurt Russell), the husband who’s hobbled with a previous leg injury (Patrick Wilson), the elderly back-up deputy (Richard Jenkins) and a vain gunslinger in a white suit who’s killed more Native Americans than all of them combined (Matthew Fox). Jenkins does a great job in the classic Walter Brennan type role, and much of the humor of the film comes from him and his unwillingness to stop talking. Kurt Russell is Kurt fucking Russell. All the acting is good, including some great minor roles early on, including a piano player and the mayor’s wife.

This script is really strong and the movie looks really good, it has that instant classic feel. This is the first film from writer/director S. Craig Zahler, and it puts him on the map for me as someone to look out for in the future. We rarely get movies this good and I basically having nothing bad to say about it. I’m avoiding spoilers because everyone with the stomach to handle it should see this movie. It’s currently Not Rated, but frankly it should just be an R.

Bone Tomahawk is a great movie and it’s exactly the kind of genre blender I love. Highly recommended.