bone tomahawk | s. craig zahler | kurt russell | patrick wilson | matthew fox | cannibal | drama | western | united kingdom | history | richard jenkins | lili simmons | evan jongkeit | david arquette | sid haig | fred melamed | maestro harrell | united states
Film: Bone Tomahawk
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox
This is a movie that I learned about when I got into podcasts. It was getting a lot of buzz for year-end shows and it went on a list to check out. I wasn’t doing lists of my own and this would have been the year that I got excited to start. This was also a selection as part of the Summer Series for the Podcast Under the Stairs. The synopsis here is in the dying day so of the old west, an elderly sheriff and his posse set out to rescue their town’s doctor from cannibalistic cave dwellers.
We start this movie off with Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette) as they’re robbing a group. Purvis slits the throat of one of the people, setting the tone for the movie. I believe they go about digging here as well, but they stop when they hear riders. There is an ominous feel when they find animal and human skulls. The two of them are then attacked.
The movie then shifts 11 days into the future and taking place in a small town. The sheriff here is Hunt (Kurt Russell). He’s married to Lorna (Kathryn Morris). One of the local doctors is a woman by the name of Samantha (Lili Simmons). She is married to a cowboy, Arthur (Patrick Wilson). He currently has a bum leg that requires attention.
We get an interesting scene here in the jail where Sheriff Hunt is preparing soup when a deputy of Chicory (Richard Jenkins) shows up. The two of them spend time together before heading to the local bar. It is run by Clarence (Fred Melamed). We get to meet there a bachelor who seems to be fairly wealthy for the time in Brooder (Matthew Fox). Also there is Purvis. The sheriff asks him some questions as he is a drifter. Purvis gives a fake name and gets agitated. It ends with him being shot in the leg.
They try to get the local doctor to check out the wound, but he’s too drunk. Brooder seeks the aid of Samantha. She agrees and we get an interesting scene where Arthur doesn’t fully trust him. Regardless, she goes to the jail to tend to Purvis’ leg. It is there that Deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) is on duty as well.
This night takes a turn though. Brooder hears an eerie horn sound. We then see Buford (Jeremy Tardy) checking out the barn he works at. He calls out to warn that whoever is there to leave. The people inside don’t listen. We can see that they’re painted in white and attack with Native American weapons. They’re the same group we saw attack Purvis and Buddy in the beginning.
The next morning Chicory seeks out Sheriff Hunt to alert him to what happened. They make the grisly discovery at the barn and then learn that Deputy Nick and Samantha are missing. Sheriff Hunt breaks the news to Arthur, who despite his bad leg is going after her. Sheriff Hunt, Chicory and Brooder are going with him. They call in ‘the professor’, portrayed by Zahn McClarnon, to see if he knew who attacked the town. He reveals there is a tribe that lives in a forbidden valley. They’re referred to as troglodytes and thought to be cannibals. Despite this knowledge, the four men set out to save those taken. It isn’t an easy journey and finding them is just the beginning of the nightmare.
That should be enough to get you a broader idea of what we’re getting in this movie. Where I want to start is that my father loves westerns and it is a genre that I’ve seen some from, but haven’t dove in too much as of yet. My current knowledge is more for the bigger titles that feature John Wayne or ones that came out in the 1990’s, like Tombstone which also features Russell. What I will say though, all of the ones that are western while adding in horror elements pique my interest.
Delving into this a bit more, I think the realism of living in the west here is great. Justice is a bit looser and the concept of ‘the wild west’ makes sense. Sheriff Hunt legit shoots Purvis, because he can feel him getting agitated and the answers that he gives aren’t good enough. Arthur’s leg in the state that even when he’s in town needs extra care, since hygiene isn’t what it is today. Him going out into the wilderness makes it even worse. Life is hard here, without having the fear of this tribe of cave dwellers.
That is where I’m going to go next. I love that the movie refers to them as troglodytes. This feels like an earlier in time take on Wrong Turn, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes. We have this isolated tribe that has been living its own way for so long that how primitive they act is scary. There is an idea here that there could be some inbreeding. They are quite brutal as well. This villain is something that got me excited the first time I heard about it. As the synopsis states, they are cannibals which adds another layer as well. The weapons they use seem fairly common for what we think with Native Americans. I love though one of the featured ones is a jaw bone of an animal that has been fashioned into a tomahawk. The moment I saw that, it made a lot of sense.
Before moving away from the story, I wanted to touch on something with genre classification. The argument is about if this is a horror movie or not. According to the Internet Movie Database, it is. While watching it, there is a long stretch where it is just our group traveling. That is more of a western with drama aspects as the characters interact. It isn’t until the third act that it leans into it. What I will say though, how far the movie goes I would still consider it adjunct, which is why I’m writing this.
With that taken care of, I’ll go next to another strong aspect of the movie which is the acting. Russell is amazing here as Sheriff Hunt. He just has that rugged nature about him and the older he gets, the more he fits in these types of movies. Wilson is an actor I’m a big fan of. I like him in the role that he has here since due to his injury he is limited. He plays that very well. Fox is good as this arrogant bachelor. I didn’t recognize Jenkins at first, but once I did things clicked. He is an underrated character actor for me and that includes this movie. I thought that Simmons, Jonigkeit, Arquette, Haig, McClarnon and the rest of this amazing cast. There is really a stacked cast for sure.
Then the last things to go over would be the effects, cinematography and soundtrack. For the former, it feels like this is taking place in the old west. It is great how well they can simulate that. I will give credit for the cinematography along with the costumes. As for the effects, we don’t necessarily get a lot of them, but seeing the S. Craig Zahler was the writer/director, I knew it was going to be brutal and look realistic. That is the case here and it’s great. The soundtrack doesn’t necessarily stand out, but it fits. What does work here for me though is this creepy sound our Native Americans use. Seeing how it is done adds another level on top of that. I couldn’t end this though without commenting on the theme song that plays over the credits. It has a charm to it that made me laugh.
So then in conclusion here, I’m glad that I finally ticked this one off my list. It takes a situation that was real in the past and just adds to an already hard life with this tribe of troglodytes. The acting is on point and they all plays such distinct characters that it works. The effects are brutal and realistic. Going along with that, the cinematography helps and the sound design adds another level. If I have a gripe, it runs a bit long during the travel sequence, but I understand why. It is trying to convey how hard this journey is. Regardless of that nitpick, this is a good movie that is bordering on great. I’m excited to revisit this one now that I’ve seen it.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10