Director-S. Craig Zahler
Starring-Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson
Scott’s Review #403
Reviewed May 10, 2016
Bone Tomahawk, unfortunately a film from 2015 that almost nobody saw or heard of, is a unique independent horror/western hybrid, that has strong influences of Quentin Tarantino, and contains an impressive cast for such a low profile film. Bone Tomahawk is the proverbial diamond in the rough and is worth seeing for film fans with patience enough to sit through the slow moving pace in order to get to the good stuff, which largely comes in the final thirty minutes of the film.
Notably, the film was recognized by the Independent film committee and received two spirit awards, that for Best Supporting Male (Richard Jenkins), and for Best Screenplay- it won neither.
The film really does not have a “star”, but rather a myriad of heavy hitters in a clear ensemble. Kurt Russell plays Franklin Hunt, sheriff of a tiny town named Bright Hope, presumably somewhere in the west (Wyoming?) circa 1890. His deputy sheriff, Chicory, is played by Jenkins.
When drifters kill some travelers, they accidentally stumble upon a mysterious Native American burial ground and taint its contents, leaving one brutally murdered by the tribe. The other (played by David Arquette) stumbles into Bright Hope and is immediately deemed suspicious. When he, a female Doctor’s assistant, and a young local man disappear, it is realized that they have been abducted by the owners of the burial ground, who are feared to be cannibalistic savages. Hunt, Chicory, a foreman named Arthur (the doctor’s assistants wife), played by Patrick Wilson, along with a local playboy played by Matthew Fox, decide to trek long terrain to find and rescue the missing.
The pacing of the film is extremely slow and this will undoubtedly turn off some folks seeking slicker, high-tech viewing, or even some CGI, but the payoff for patience is immense. To be fair, the groups trek through the desert in pursuit of the accosted seems endless, and I did have thoughts of what the point was, but the forthcoming turn of events makes this tedium worth it.
In defense of the long plodding journey, this aspect does make the audience get to know and begin to care about the characters- some make it out alive, others are not as lucky. The fun part is finding out who does and doesn’t.
Bone Tomahawk contains one of the most gruesome scenes that I have ever witnessed in my thousands of viewed films. A male character, nude, is brutally scalped and a spear is hammered into his throat in full view of the prisoners. As if this is not shocking enough, he is then turned upside down, split down the middle, and chopped in half, as his insides spill to the ground. The snapping sounds of his bones and the visual horror of the guts are even tough for the non-squeamish to view.
It is uncanny that Kurt Russell plays a very similar character in another 2015 film- the much higher profile, The Hateful Eight. Sure, in the latter he is a bounty hunter, but the time period, setting, and costumes are almost identical. One might wonder which was made first.
Bone Tomahawk is a guys movie, but not in the traditional sense- there are no explosions, no unnecessary machismo, or apparent clichés. But at the end of the day it is a western- the cast is mainly male- besides the Doctor’s assistant, the only other females are wives with small roles. The most glaring is Sean Young- given hardly anything to do in what amounted to a cameo appearance. Otherwise, the Native American females- blind, deaf, pregnant, and missing appendages are the only other females in sight.
A unique hybrid of film genres, Bone Tomahawk is a clever, different experience. I am a champion of independent film and this film is a good example of why I am. Evidently, with a stellar cast of A-list or former A-list stars banding together to make a piece of art, it seems others champion good film too.