From its opening scene, Bone Tomahawk throws us straight into the unforgiving world of the Wild West. With a strong cast featuring Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson, the dark “horror-western” carefully keeps the tension at a steady pace throughout, despite its risky length of 132 minutes. It’s admittedly a slow burner, but gets away with it thanks to its dedication to character development – something not always easily achieved. Bone Tomahawk’s suggestions of racial and class tensions of the time add to the atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia between characters and, as the film goes on, we learn a lot about each of them and can genuinely empathise as their relationships are put under strain. This effectively builds until the film’s violent and gory conclusion, where the true nature of the mysterious “troglodyte clan” they are searching for is revealed. These scenes are not for the fainthearted, but they are worth the wait.
Director S Crag Zahler’s debut feature Bone Tomahawk boasts a very strong script, with brilliantly executed dialogue – no doubt aided by some stellar casting choices. Zahler has shed some new light on the trending western genre of recent years: though this is largely a western rather than a horror, it really seems to benefit from the genre mix. Its horrific elements also make it very memorable and offer a big payoff to a film that moves fairly slowly.
In terms of its acting, the inimitable Kurt Russell delivers yet another striking performance, this time as the no-nonsense Sheriff Hunt. Meanwhile, a barely recognisable Richard Jenkins excels as the likable Chicory, evoking some genuinely emotional moments, which are only heightened by the ongoing tension. However, the entire cast seems to fit right in with the gritty Wild West setting and is of a consistently high calibre throughout.
The film does not disappoint visually, either. Beautifully shot and coloured, it takes full advantage of the setting and production design opportunities of the present day, whilst giving a respectful nod to classic spaghetti westerns, with its various recognisable tropes and influences. Created on a micro-budget, and rivalled by the likes of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015), Bone Tomahawk somehow manages to hold its own against other bigger budget productions. Ultimately, it delivers horror and western action without scrimping on world-building and characterisation. A must-see.
Bone Tomahawk is released on 19th February 2016.
Watch the trailer for Bone Tomahawk here: