VOD film review: Bone Tomahawk
Unsuitability for tea-time viewing10
Luke Channell | On 12, Dec 2016
Director: Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins
Watch Bone Tomahawk online in the UK: BFI Player / Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Craig Zahler’s Western-horror mash-up opens on a graphic close-up of a man’s throat being slit. It’s not exactly your average establishing shot, yet this is a mere glimmer of the shocking violence that’s to follow in this engrossing genre hybrid.
Set in the 1890s within the small town of Bright Hope, Bone Tomahawk initially appears to follow the typical narrative tropes of the Western. The gruff, moustached Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russel) patrols the town with senior backup deputy Chicory (Jenkins). Elsewhere, foreman Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson) rests at home with a broken leg while his wife, Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons), the doctor’s assistant, tends to his wound. But the harmony of the town is soon disrupted, when Samantha and Deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) are abducted by a group of savages and Sherriff Hunt, Chicory, Arthur and arrogant womaniser John Brooder (Fox) embark on a rescue mission to retrieve the pair.
Zahler’s directional debut allows us plenty of time to get to know the ensemble and this careful pacing gives depth and complexity to characters who initially appear like Western archetypes. Zahler’s commitment to character gives each member of the talented ensemble the space to shine and each delivers a dedicated, multi-faceted performance. Jenkins particularly stands out, nailing every line as the loveable assistant-deputy. As the group trek through the desert, the film relies heavily on the group’s chemistry to keep proceedings engaging. But with such a stellar cast on top form, aided by a sharp script, there’s never any doubt. The band’s wry interactions, heated quarrels and humorous murmurings keep proceedings utterly engaging.
It’s in the third act, at the end of the group’s gruelling journey across the wilderness, that the film takes a thrillingly unique twist, as the group comes face to face with the monstrous, cannibalistic tribe. These troglodytes are a truly terrifying, grotesque creation, who use spine-chilling, other-worldly screeches as a way of communicating and their attacks are sudden, brutal, and perverse.
The build-up is so deftly done that when the visceral violence and appalling depravity arrives, it delivers the most impactful, tragic and stirring moments of the film. One demise, which uses practical effects to gruesomely convincing effect, is so horrific and unflinchingly shot that it’s genuinely hard to stomach.
While Bone Tomahawk’s slow-burn momentum and intensely distressing scenes will put some viewers off, its melding of Wstern and horror genres is expertly executed. Coupled with a string of fantastic performances, empathetic characters and effectively emotive, grisly violence, this has future cult classic written all over it.
Bone Tomahawk is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.