THE NAME ALONE GETS BONE TOMAHAWK 100 MOONS. I mean, really, how the hell do you live up to a name like that? For starters, put Kurt Russell in it. Then, make it a Western. Not enough? How about you through some cannibals in there. NEED MORE? MATTHEW FOX WEARS A FUNNY HAT. Oh, and now give us a poster that looks like it can be found on a child’s bedroom linen set in the ’50s. OKAY, YOU DID IT. Bone Tomahawk, based on name and cast alone, instantly became one of my most anticipated films of 2015. You know what sucks? Anticipating something. How do you live up to anticipation?! Hearing positive reviews out of Fantastic Fest only built up the film in my mind, making me even angrier at the possibility of being disappointed. Having finally seen the film, I can say that Bone Tomahawk isn’t without its flaws, but they are few and far between, making this character driven Western with a splash of horror one of my favorite movies of the year.
No joke, when I broke onto the Kurt Russell compound, this was how he answered his door before pummeling me and calling the police.
A stranger rolls into the town of Bright Hope that raises Sheriff Franklin Hunt’s (Russell) suspicions. These suspicions are confirmed the next morning when the stranger and Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) go missing, along with horses and a murdered stable boy. The Sheriff, along with his backup Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), John Brooder (Matthew Fox), and Samantha’s husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) head out in search of a legendary tribe of savages, known to “rape and eat their mothers.” WOW, THAT SOUNDS FUN AND SAFE. As the four men head out to recover Samantha, they experience a whole bunch of bummer events and a whole bunch of blood. Man, living in the Old West sounds so crappy.
Imagine being Matthew Fox and showing up on set like, “Yeah, I guess I grew a pretty good mustache,” and then looking at Kurt Russell and starting to cry and then Kurt says, “Excuse me, Matthew, I mustache you a question,” and then getting a hug.
Kurt Russell playing a sheriff searching for cannibals in a Western is everything you imagine it can be. But believe it or not, for as perfect as it is to see Kurt Russell’s giant mustache leading a hunt for cannibals, Jenkins’ portrayal of his trusty, yet mildly incompetent sidekick, manages to steal the movie. Although Chicory became mildly scatterbrained at his old age, Franklin’s trust in him proves his worth in the search party and also openly admits his flaws, saying things like, “Well I’m old…and forgot.” I could have enjoyed watching these two play off one another for the entire movie and will buy tickets to 15 prequels showing these two running Bright Hope. Matthew Fox walked the line between charismatic and vain to make a dynamic Brooder, especially exciting since I lost Lost and he hasn’t seemed to find his groove in theatrical roles, but this character suited him very well and hopefully leads to more big screen appearances. Patrick Wilson is a hunk so I’ve mostly seen him in leading man roles, but in Bone Tomahawk, he reverted back to a performance similar to Nite Owl in Watchmen, that of an inadvertent hero instead of the take-charge leader. The whole posse played great off of one another, thanks in part to S. Craig Zahler‘s well-crafted script.
“Sorry, ma’am, but there’s only one King of Hat Town and his name is ‘Me.’ Well, MY name isn’t me, but, I’m me. My name is…well, I forget.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but cannibal films just aren’t my thing. If they’re of the Cannibal Holocaust variety, I get bored with graphic close-ups of sleezy looking special effects. The more supernatural approaches that incorporate the Wendigo legends of consuming other people to obtain their power just aren’t my thing. Films like Ravenous and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) are the exception, because they’re impressive films of any genre, not just impressive cannibal films. Bone Tomahawk should be considered a “Western-horror,” as it’s clearly a Western first with minimal horror elements. Cannibals don’t typically take center stage in dramatic films, so a cannibalistic tribe kidnapping people mostly create the impetus for our posse to leave town. Don’t worry, there are some GRUESOME sequences in the film, some truly gnarly sequences, but some horror fans might be turned off by how much of the film’s 130 minute runtime involves men wandering around in the desert, but the film’s climax is sure to please the most die-hard cannibal fiend.
“The bad news is your legs sucks, but the good news is you will always play characters who sleep with attractive women.”
You know what I just realized? I’M ALSO NOT THAT BIG OF A WESTERN FAN. I’ve enjoyed contemporary Westerns like The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but that’s mostly due to its gorgeous cinematography and grim, desolate portrayal of life in the Old West. Like those films, Bone Tomahawk conveyed the awfulness of trying to survive in treacherous times, and characters even explicitly acknowledge how awful the frontier is, so I’m glad this film didn’t attempt to romanticize it. Unfortunately, the film’s cinematography couldn’t really compare to those other contemporary Westerns. The genre typically features sweeping footage of the open plains that reminds the viewers how desolate the landscape is, but every shot seemed like it barely contained the four leads. I thought maybe this was a creative decision, but the only effect it had on me was frustration. Maybe it was a budgetary issue, and that more remote locations were unattainable, but having driven through California deserts a few times, I felt like most shots had a rest stop or gas station just outside the frame. A small issue with an otherwise fantastic film, but it’s worth noting. Despite this small personal qualm, Bone Tomahawk combines traditional elements from Westerns and cannibal films alike to create a truly original story of four doomed men setting at to do what’s right, no matter what the cost, in a violent visual assault on the audiencewhose brutality matches that of life in the Old West.
Wolfman Moon Scale