Bone Tomahawk (2015) Capsule Review
I gave this ravenous little genre Western short thrift last year following it’s initial LFF rodeo, so now that it has miraculously secured a theatrical release in the UK I feel obliged to craft some deeper thoughts of support. Bone Tomahawk follows the grisly, exhausted trail of a number of Westerns that have unexpectedly clustered together over the past twenty-four months, and apart from the obvious high-profile expeditions The Reverent and The Hateful Eight can I once again strongly recommend Slow West and specifically The Homesman as a heart-breaking modern addition to the historical paddock? This movie however is an altogether different beast, more Andre De Toth or Robert Aldritch than John Ford given its leather weathered tautology, the frontier as an unforgiving nest of lethal flora and fauna where the ungodly savage walks abroad. When his fiancé is kidnapped by a mysterious faction of brutal indigenous troglodytes the inconveniently disabled Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) whips up a posse to retrieve her from a fate worse than death, with noble Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) and his slightly eccentric deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) in tow. Arthur has broken his leg which slows the pursuit in frantic frustration, even with the dogged determinism of the sharply dressed but deadly John Brooder (Matthew Fox) who harbours a deep homicidal hatred for this particular tribe of natives. We’ll draw a line in the sand here synopsis wise as the film cantors into deeply ghoulish territory, more Deadwood than Drums Across The Mohawk in terms of its grisly authenticity of the era, a contemporarily shocking disregard for mercy or clemency from either the indigenous imps or interloping Europeans.
When will these ignorant, haughty Christian white devils finally learn that one does not disrespect with nor fuck with ancient Indian burial grounds eh? Bone Tomahawk has been shot as a movie, cast as a movie, written as movie and directed as a movie, so it’s such a shame that according to the distributor gods it wasn’t judged to be projected as a movie, as apart from a handful of nominal festival screenings the film went straight to the streaming and VOD ghetto in North America. It is quite a wonder then that its got a modest theatrical release here, but it certainly deserves the format as a immensely entertaining remorseless slice of frontier horror. It’s a men on a mission picture where a rag-tag group of well defined characters group together to conquer the wilderness and battle hidden elemental foes, the savages seeming to rise from the primordial ooze as agents of grotesque fury. There is plenty of banter and period specific dialogue which reminds one of the best of a Hawksian camaraderie or even John Carpenter genre classical contraptions, but it doesn’t labour the context and drives forward on a clear narrative arrow which has thrills and gut slashed spills in equal measure. Rather than offer some lyrical or elegiac genre statement the pace is more compact and brutal, Bone Tomahawk is a hard bitten genre piece more attuned to a tobacco stained dime-store periodical than a Cormac McCarthy epic, although it share his relentless gaze on the grotesque and cruel, almost alien wilderness.
It is also a prime example of the ever widening gulf between the micro budgeted films and the franchise behemoths, as nervous industry distributors and exhibitors are increasingly unwilling to book precious theatre time and take a minor gamble on a picture with a few named stars. Sure Russell, Jenkins and Fox are not exactly A list pedigree but they are still recognizable talents, and although the genre isn’t normally seen as moneyspinner you’d think they could have some salute Kurt whom’s agreement to the project for scale essentially unlocked the sluice gates to the rest of the funding and the talent trailing acting posse. Sure you could hack twenty, maybe thirty minutes out of the films middle section without any recognizable deterioration which is not uncommon for a slightly hesitant debut, but the film retains an assured voice with one sequence in particular that immediately goes down in the annals of genre history as shudderingly severe. Of the well oiled cast Kurt slips into the 19th century with the dour ease that he always musters, Fox is surprisingly memorable as the merciless pistolsmith, but it is Richard Jenkins who once again steals the show, murmuring all the best lines with ease with a haggard self deprecation that got numerous laughs when I saw it last year. Genre fans should look out for exploitation totem Sid Haig in a small but pivotal opening role as seen above, and a frankly unrecognisable Sean Young which suggests she will not be awarded a cameo in the soon to be lensing Blade Runner sequel. The news is a few months old but I’m sure some of you will share in the glee that despite all the omens HBO have finally sanctioned a two-hour revisit to Deadwood which is just fantastic news, and I have to wonder if this small yet not insignificant spike in horse operas hasn’t loosened those tightly wound purse strings?