Bone Tomahawk Review

Bone Tomahawk

So I guess they just don’t make westerns like they used to.

No, and nobody’s ever made a western like Bone Tomahawk.

In the fictitious olden days, the optimistically named one horse town of Bright Hope provides some shelter from the harsh realities of frontier living.

But the trappings of civilised life attract more than just good ol’ god-fearing folk, and soon enough a mysterious ne’er-do-well shows up in search of a good drink and a good time.

Which is why Bright Hope has Sheriff Hunt around.

With his bristling moustache and a beard that’s as wide as his hat, Hunt belongs to an age where men were men, horses were cars and women were damsels in distress.

A few rudimentary questions later and our visiting buddy ends up with a bullet in his leg, courtesy of Hunt, after an ill judged attempt to flee from his inquisitor.

Our recidivist friend is dragged to the nearest jail, while a pretty young women is fetched from tending to her husband’s broken leg so she can fish the bullet out from Bright Hope’s newest resident.

You see, doctoring was very much women’s work back in the day – just without the pay packet, picketing and inevitable messiah complex.

But something’s afoot in Bright Hope, and when morning breaks Sheriff Hunt discovers his jailhouse inhabitants have been kidnapped by a bunch of barbaric savages.

There’s only one thing to do: assemble a posse of able bodied men-folk and mount up for a suicide mission to save Bright Hope’s fairest maiden of them all.

Now that kind of sounds like every western ever made, and Bone Tomahawk does have all the staple ingredients you’d expect from a classic western.

So we’ve got good guys and bad ones, men who speak through their actions rather than words, beautiful, unyielding landscapes as well as a troupe of psychotic and freakishly strong cannibals.

Ok, so not every western has beautiful landscapes.

Turns out writer and director S Craig Zahler is an unashamed fan of horror films, and he’s used this passion to create a surprisingly original hybrid of two pretty stale genres with his debut feature.

It all works rather well, as the familiar tropes of westerns lull you into a false sense of security, before this calm is unexpectedly and all too graphically ripped apart by some truly horrific scenes.

In between these two extremes there’s plenty of awkward fraternity to enjoy between a cast featuring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox, while Richard Jenkins’ ably punctuates any tension with his natural comic timing.

Not everything in Bone Tomahawk works, and the primal form of communication the cannibals use is equal parts surreal and unbelievable, but it’s definitely the best western horror I’ve ever seen.

Now I’m not sure if that makes Zahler a certified genius or simply an authentic wacko… but despite its terrors, there’s something about Bone Tomahawk that makes me feel good.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

February 2016