This is the film Green Inferno should have been. A dark, brutal tale of civilized folk versus a primitive cannibal tribe with some seriously shocking gore. Of course just how civilized they are is a relative matter as Bone Tomahawk is set in the Old West, with settlers not college kids dealing with cannibals.
It’s something of a cross between The Hills Have Eyes and The Searchers. Beginning with an unsettling prologue in which a pair of drifters kill sleeping travelers before running into to barely glimpsed killers with a taste for decorating their burial grounds with human skulls.
After a murder and the disappearance of the town’s female doctor and the surviving drifter from the prologue in the town of Bright Hope the Sheriff consults a local Indian who’s taken to the white man’s ways. He tells them it wasn’t any tribe that did it but troglodytes, cave dwelling semi human savages, who would rape and eat their own mothers. A posse of four men head out to retrieve the captives, the town’s sheriff, aging deputy, a professional Indian killer and the doctor’s husband who won’t let a shattered leg stop him from trying to save his wife. What they find is horror beyond anything they could imagine.
While the film takes it’s time getting to the confrontation between The two groups it never lets itself become dull, showing just enough to keep the viewer’s interest. The hideously butchered remains of a stable hand serve as a foretaste of what’s to come. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler uses this time to let us get to know the characters, building things up in a traditional western fashion. He makes sure we like and identify with them so that when the carnage starts we feel for them, something the much more hyped Green Inferno failed at totally. The emotional impact of seeing people we’ve grown fond of ride off, knowing that by both horror and western rules some will not be coming back, keeps the suspense up, Seeing brutal and very bloody torture and death befall them gives the film it’s punch.
The film has a solid cast which helps greatly. As I’m sure everyone knows Kurt Russell stars as the Sheriff, (thankfully without a John Wayne impersonation) and he anchors the group and the film nicely. Richard Jenkins, as the aging deputy Chicory is the traditional western sidekick, even managing to steal a few scenes here and there. Patrick Wilson and Lili Simmons as the O’Dwyers look a bit to young and pretty for their parts, life on the frontier as a herdsman and a doctor aged you fast, they look like models. They give both give good performances, they just needed a bit of aging. Other familiar names in the cast include Sean Young, Sid Haig, Michael Paré, David Arquette, and Matthew Fox. Genre fans will have fun spotting them in the cast.
Bone Tomahawk is a film for fans of the genre and for western fans who don’t mind a film that strays off the path a bit. It’s also not for those with weak stomachs, the violence is hardcore once it happens and very realistic looking, the effects department did an excellent job. But that makes sense because everything else in this film is top shelf.