Cowboys and troglodytes make for an unusual combination. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is a Western that is also a comedy until the good humour runs out and what is left turns into a grim horror film. Against a background of the American Southwest, we have a story of a kidnapped woman and a posse that goes off to try to rescue her and finds it a deadly matter. The film is surprisingly entertaining, featuring Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins. S. Craig Zahler writes and directs a film that is at times warm and at times graphically violent.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler warning: This review contains potential minor spoilers.
One popular type of film is the road picture. Two or more people, travelling the road together, learn about each other and see each other under stress. The same sort of arrangement also happens in Westerns, but for the fact that they frequently do not have roads. I suppose they should be called ‘trail pictures’ ‘True Grit’ or ‘Lonesome Dove’ probably would qualify as trail films. Usually these films will have some comedy mixed in to develop the characters. ‘Bone Tomahawk’is one of these and mixes in both comedy and horror and does a decent job of each. The horror is explicit and harrowing. Just seeing a Western is rare enough these days. One just has not gotten many horror Westerns since ‘Billy The Kid Meets Dracula’. This film is one of the stranger westerns ever made.
Our story starts in Bright Hope, one of the flea specks of the American West from the cowboy past. It seems someone, nobody is exactly sure who, raids the town and takes prisoners, including Samantha O’Dwyer (played by Lili Simmons) wife of the Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson). Arthur is recovering from a broken leg but insists on hobbling along to join the search for his wife. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell who seems to be reviving much of the persona he created for Wyatt Earp in ‘Tombstone’) organises a posse including what turns out to be a racist gunslinger (Matthew Fox) and an over-the-hill deputy (Richard Jenkins). Together they set off to find the Indians or whatever it was that raided their town. ‘Troglodytes’, an Indian declares.
The film is 132 minutes long, which gives the men plenty of time on the trail to get to know each other better. Meanwhile, Arthur (of the broken leg), who was in no condition to walk at all, much less join a posse, shows incredible spirit agonisingly walking on a broken leg to keep up with the rest of the posse. They are chasing people who seem to be local folklore who are suspected as being total savages and cannibals. Along the line, there are incidents that reflect on the local white men’s relations with local Indians and Mexicans.
The film features a throng of familiar, if mismatched, faces including Sean Young, James Tolkan, David Arquette, Sid Haig and, of all people, Fred Melamed of ‘A Serious Man’. This is the second film written and the first one directed by S. Craig Zahler, who has a whimsical touch for writing dialog even in unthinkable circumstances. While the last part of the film seems an odd match for what comes before it, the talk remains strangely off-centre and going off in odd directions.
Many people who enjoy the first half of the film may be surprised or even shocked to go where this film will take them. It is almost like it came from another film. I rate ‘Bone Tomahawk’ a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2015