With the theatres packed with superheroes and found footage movies I found the western/horror film Bone Tomahawk to be a really nice break. Now genre mash-ups are tricky beasts at the best of times, and westerns not always an easy sell to modern audiences, but writer director S. Craig Zahler manages to work the western-horror blend rather well in his directorial debut.
To be completely forthright this movie is more western than horror so if westerns are not your thing you may want to give this one a pass, but be forewarned that when the horrific moments do come they will make even the hardiest of horror buffs pause and put down their popcorn. The story for Bone Tomahawk takes place in the very Wild West where we are first introduced to Purvis (David Arquette) and Buddy (Sid Haig) a pair of nasty pieces of work who after murdering some travelers they make the mistake of escaping through forbidden territory.
Buddy is brutally killed by a dark figure while Purvis runs for his life. Unfortunately for the cast of characters in this movie the place he runs to is the town of Bright Hope. And Hell surely follows him, and by Hell we mean a group of cave dwelling cannibal Indians. The eclectic town of Bright Hope consists of Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) who tends to shoot suspects in the leg, his back-up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) who may be just a tad passed his prime, the well dressed and educated Indian killer John Brooder (Matthew Fox), Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who is at home recuperating from a broken leg, and is tended to by his wife, Samantha (Lili Simmons).
That night Samantha is called upon to pull a bullet out of the leg of Purvis, shot by Hunt while trying to escape questioning, but come morning she, Purvis and Deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit), who was left to keep an eye on things during the operation, are missing, and a strange arrow impeded in the wall is the only clue as to what went down. After getting some background on the tribe that has apparently made off with Arthur’s wife a rescue party is quickly assembled. The group consists of Sherriff Hunt, Chicory, Brooder and of course Arthur, with the main problem being Arthur’s injury which could really impede the group’s ability to track down the cannibals in a timely fashion, but no one even thinks of asking the husband to stay home. He would totally get his “Man Card” revoked if he stayed home.
Bone Tomahawk is a western in the vein of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven; this is not the mythical west of Pecos Bill or even Rooster Cogburn, but a grim and dangerous world where an infection is just as deadly as a six gun revolver. Director S. Craig Zahler creates a living breathing world of danger and dread that feels deathly real at times but then horrifyingly surreal at others. Be warned this film may contain one of the most brutal deaths ever depicted on screen, a death so viscerally gruesome I’d bet it would give Jason Vorhees pause. The performances throughout the film are nothing short of pitch perfect with Russell’s’ grizzled and weather beaten sheriff a particular delight to watch. Patrick Wilson and Mathew Fox both shine as two sides of a different coin, each with slightly differently motivations for tracking down these cannibals. As for the cannibals themselves, well they are truly a frightening lot if not the brightest bulbs in the box.
S. Craig Zahler brings us a standard western tale in the vein of The Searchers, but with a nice horror bent that keeps the story fresh and interesting. That and a fantastic cast of actors makes this a must see for any fan of westerns, as long as said fans have a strong stomach.