“The only advantage we have over these cave dwellers is being smarter. So let’s not lose that.”
Kurt Russell. Cannibals. Western. Horror. Really, a movie like this exists? I mean, you had us already at Kurt Russell. And yes, this movie does exist and it’s awesome. Mixing the western with horror is a rare mash-up, but debut filmmaker S. Craig Zahler does a bang-up job of combining the two into a seamless, superbly written and acted thriller.
The film takes place around the turn of the last century in the wild, wild West. When some mysterious figures abduct some people from the optimistically titled town of Bright Hope, a small posse is formed to bring them back. At first, it is naturally assumed they were taken by Indians. But as a Native American with some knowledge of these marauders explains, they are actually troglodytes, “a spoiled bloodline of inbred animals that rape and eat their own mothers,” in other words, not the nicest bunch of ‘people’.
Heading the search party is no-nonsense Sheriff Franklin Hunt, played by Kurt Russell. He’s not quite a shoot-first, ask-questions-later kind of guy, as he’ll give someone a shot at answering his question, but is perfectly willing to shoot the guy in the leg if the answer doesn’t come soon enough. Also on board is Hunt’s ‘back-up deputy’, Chicory (Richard Jenkins), who lightens the proceedings a bit by pondering things like whether flea circuses are real or not. (He’d like to think they are.} Then there’s Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), who’s known for killing a lot of Indians and is particularly adept at surviving the dangerous Western plains. Lastly, there’s O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson, Insidious, The Conjuring), whose wife (“She is my whole everything.”) was one of those abducted, but who puts them all at risk because of his badly injured leg. But as he notes, he doesn’t have a choice. These four men thusly set out on a journey through rough wilderness to face off against bloodthirsty cannibals. It’s John Ford’s The Searchers meets Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, as cool a combo as they come.
It’s no secret that Kurt Russell is the Gore 4’s favorite actor, based on The Thing alone, but also for his portrayal of everything from Snake Plissken to Coach Herb Brooks. Now he’s a part of the Fast and Furious mega-franchise and Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film, The Hateful Eight, and we couldn’t be happier. Russell is one of our most underrated actors, so it’s great seeing him get such high profile roles. Surprisingly, as how effortlessly he fits into this frontier role, he hasn’t done much in the Western genre, other than portraying Wyatt Earp in the acclaimed Tombstone. The rest of the cast is also superb, especially Richard Jenkins, who provides a bit of comic relief, as he muses, “I know the world’s supposed to be round, but I’m not so sure about this part.” Fox and Wilson, who often headline their own films or series, add solid depth, with Wilson’s character not only having the most at stake, but also dealing with the most physical difficulties. Other recognizable faces in the cast, some in just fleeting roles, include David Arquette, Sean Young, Michael Pare and genre fav, Sid Haig. Also welcome is Lili Simmons (Banshee) as O’Dwyer’s captured wife.
While this may be Zahler’s first film, he is no stranger to laying pen to paper, as he is an award-winning author and a musician too. With Bone Tomahawk, he’s come up with an award-worthy script that’s intelligent, thoughtful and brutal as well. It even touches on issues that unfortunately still face us today, as when the Native American they turn to for advice proclaims, when describing the cannibals, “men like you would not distinguish them from Indians, even though they’re something else entirely.” And when the men encounter Mexicans on their journey, there’s a discussion as to how they should be treated, something still brought up in a negative fashion in the present by those who are less than enlightened. Near the end of the film, one character utters a line to another that may be one of the greatest in the history of all of film. It is simple and brilliant, but it would be a disservice and a spoiler to give it away here – you should hopefully recognize it when you come across it. As for the brutal part, there are scenes as gory and rough as anything you’d find in an Eli Roth film, so be prepared. The troglodytes themselves are frightening creatures who let out Predator-like screams and seemingly have no sense of humanity at all, being that they are barely human. But are they really that different from gunslingers known for killing countless Indians, or as we see early on, thieves who butcher traveling settlers?
Bone Tomahawk saw a recent limited theatrical release, and can currently be seen On Demand, and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 29, hopefully with some cool extras that will delve into what makes this film so enjoyable. As Kurt Russell’s character tells someone regarding their endeavor, “we’ll make sure all this has value,” you’ll get more than your money’s worth watching this movie in whichever way you choose. And when award season comes along, don’t be surprised to see Bone Tomahawk with a well-deserved nod or more.
— review by Brian de Castro