Starring: Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Running Time: 132 mins
Bone Tomahawk is an American film about four men who set out on a mission to rescue the people who were kidnapped by cannibalistic cave dwellers in the Wild West.
This really is a strange film. Although it has the outward appearance of a western, it’s a unique blending of genres that comes together to make a very different, unnerving and often shocking watch. On top of that, the lead performances suit the film’s tense atmosphere very well, and roll with all of the more outlandish twists throughout. However, as original as the film is at times, it really struggles to keep itself going in some of the slowest and dullest parts of a generally very slow-moving film, making watching it over the course of 132 minutes a real bit of a drag.
Let’s start off with what’s by far the most memorable thing about Bone Tomahawk, how it brings other modern genres and ideas into the classic western setting. The plot is fairly simple at first glance, four men must traverse difficult terrain and face terrifying savages in order to bring back captives. However, as you watch the film unfold, you see that it’s at times just as much of a horror movie, and even a sci-fi, as it is a normal western.
While the cowboys and the Wild West setting hark back to the old days, the savages that they come up against are far more brutal, terrifying and seemingly out-of-this-world than anything you’d see in classic Hollywood westerns. I won’t reveal too much about them, because they’re quite something to see, but the way in which they act takes typical savage behaviour and adds to it a level of almost alien nature, which I found particularly unsettling throughout.
That’s a major theme of the movie throughout, as it unnerves you from the very opening scene. Although I can’t say that the slow-moving nature of the story had me particularly riveted by the characters, I was consistently unsettled and simply weirded out by the tense atmosphere surrounding every moment of the film.
The tension can undoubtedly come to thank the slow pacing and lack of dialogue for its strength. However, that unique combination of the unsettling vibes of a horror movie with the bleak and desolate portrayal of the Wild West, with very dark cinematography and replacing the classic yellow sand with dull white, and intensifying the grey features of the landscape, completely the opposite to the portrayals we all know and love, really comes to strengthen the film’s atmosphere, something I was impressed by all the way through.
Another plus comes in the form of the performances. Again, the characters here definitely aren’t all that engrossing, but I liked to see that Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox all fully embraced the film’s unique and out-there elements. There are times in these sorts of films when actors’ individual styles becomes completely incompatible with a film’s more outlandish ideas, but the leads here all take a step into the unknown and manage to bring their characters’ reactions and feelings towards the horror they begin to witness and experience to life very well.
When it comes to the story, I have to say that everything’s far too slow and drawn-out. Atmospherically, the pacing is fully appropriate, but I didn’t feel that there was enough depth for the film to really hold my intrigue all the way through, even if the tension did. It takes a turn about halfway through, and changes from a more typical but unsettling western to something really, really different. I liked the change of atmospheres in the middle, and was captivated by unprecedented ideas in the story, however even the film’s second half wasn’t quite compact or immediately riveting enough to grab me in the way I wanted, leaving me fairly bored for long stretches.
Overall, Bone Tomahawk is a very different and often very strange film. Yes, it’s a western, but it’s a far more unsettling, dark and often gruesome take on the genre, bringing a disturbing 21st Century element to the movie. Its story isn’t the greatest, and can leave you bored over the course of its overlong runtime, however with good lead performances that help to make the film’s more outlandish ideas more convincing, the film is ultimately one that might be worth the watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.0.