Brutal, tense and emotional, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is one of those rare films that isn’t afraid to mass-up genres, as throughout the film we go from a violent horror to a classic western and back again, all without the film ever feeling as if it’s tone is unclear. Whilst I have always enjoyed classics such as: ‘True Grit’ or ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, I don’t think this is just down to personal bias towards westerns however, as ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely excels in more aspects than one when it comes to this genre.
In the dying days of the old west, an outlaw unknowingly leads a band of cannibals to the small town of: ‘Bright Hope’. Leaving the town’s elderly sheriff and his posse to set out on a mission to rescue the town’s residents from the tribe of savage cave dwellers.
Directed by S. Craig Zahler (Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete). This underrated director has always had a talent for gritty storytelling, this time crafting a narrative which is both very engaging and tense (despite being fairly straightforward and simplistic overall). In addition to this, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ manages to perfectly capture the tone of a classic western, and sometimes even elements of 1970s horror. As the film actually reminded me of: ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ at multiple points, although this may just be coincidental.
Kurt Russell leads the brilliant cast of Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and Lili Simmons very well. As throughout the runtime all of the characters receive a decent amount of characterisation, with each member of the cast having at least one scene between them. My only issue when it comes to the characters is the lack of a flushed-out character-arc for Kurt Russell’s protagonist: ‘Sheriff Hunt’. As although his character is explored within the film’s story (usually subtlety through dialogue). I personally feel his character-arc was never developed quite as much as it could’ve been, despite the fact that this would’ve resulted in a more investing protagonist.
Although the film features a little too much hand-held camera in my opinion, the cinematography by Benji Bakshi is mostly solid throughout. As the film contains plenty of attractive shots, a few of which even feel like throwbacks to iconic shots from old westerns. The cinematography also makes great use of the film’s variety of remote locations, as the comfort of the small town feels completely distant when compared to the barren rocky landscapes where the cannibals thrive, usually resulting in a very tense atmosphere.
The original score by Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler himself is very similar to the tone of the film, in the sense that it’s a perfect mixture between western and horror. As the soundtrack utilizes trumpets and acoustic guitars to perfectly fit with the western visuals, before then completely changing to tenser and more uncomfortable tracks, putting the viewer on-edge. However, the original score also manages to have a genuine feeling of tragedy within it, as the score uses intense violin strokes to envoke emotion wherever possible. Especially in the track: ‘Four Doomed Men Ride Out’, which fits this idea perfectly.
Of course, the scene that ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is most known for is without a doubt its infamously violent scene set within the cannibal’s cave, and whilst this scene may be extremely disturbing for a large majority of viewers, I do feel that is director S. Craig Zahler’s exact intention. As this moment perfectly displays the horrific nature of the cannibalistic tribe, truly playing into their merciless and barbaric ways of life (despite not actually being that heavily present throughout the story). This scene also displays a range of excellent practical gore effects, making this savage moment even more difficult to watch through its gruesome realism alongside the agonising screams of the cannibal’s victim(s).
For the most part, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely achieves what it sets-out to accomplish, as although the film won’t appeal to everyone through its simplistic plot, slow-pacing and graphic violence, the film utilizes it’s great performances and isolated locations pretty effectively, resulting in a film that’s just as enjoyable as many other classic westerns despite being a little bland in a few areas. Overall, a decent 7/10 for me. I personally can’t wait to see more of S. Craig Zahler’s work in the future, as I feel this director has some real promise when it comes to telling dark yet gripping stories.