Director – S. Craig Zahler
Cast – Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Evan Jonigkeit, David Arquette, Fred Melamed, Sid Haig
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
From what I can tell, the last devoutly horror film Kurt Russell did is 1982’s The Thing. After an absence longer than I have been alive, he’s finally returned to the genre. Seeing his name headlining this cannibal western film was more than enough to convince me to give it a go. With Kurt, a western setting, and a cannibal element heavy in brutality, this was an easy film to like.
When several settlers from the small town of Bright Hope are kidnapped by a group of cannibal cave-dwellers, a dubious rescue team lead by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) embarks to bring them back home. Facing an enemy far more ruthless than they imagined, the band of gunslingers realizes their mission, and lives, are in serious jeopardy.
After an opening scene where horror fans are treated to two bumbling idiots, portrayed by Sid Haig and David Arquette, coming face to the unseen horrors that lie within the southern California desert, we are introduced to the sleepy wild west town of Bright Hope. John Brooder (Matthew Fox; “Lost”) is the wealthy womanizer, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson; Insidious, The Conjuring) is the local foreman recovering from a broken tibia, his wife Samantha is skilled in medicine, Chicory is the town’s backup deputy, and Sheriff Hunt is the head honcho. Late one night while tending to a prisoner with a bullet wound Samantha and a young deputy are captured, which is what prompts the rescuers to embark on what the local native “professor” says will be a suicide mission. To add to the complexity of this dangerous mission, Arthur is injured. This will become a major issue for the crew as the film progresses, but thankfully it isn’t an issue for the viewer – it only creates more tension.
This story doesn’t just focus on the horror that awaits them, but also the perilous journey they take. It isn’t until about 90 minutes into the 132 minute flick that they finally come across the cannibals, with the journey itself taking about an hour of screen time. It’s a slow-burner with some drama thrown in, but the payoff makes it a horrific experience worth the wait. Each character provides their own color, and I applaud filmmaker S. Craig Zahler for ensuring that each of these characters contributed to the film. Some times when you have multiple significant characters they can become wasteful and serve no purpose, but that is not the case here. I believe the film’s long runtime aided with this, and the characters would have been hurt had this been the typical 90 minute flick.
When the horror finally manifests…it hits hard. We finally get a good look at the cannibals, and the horror does not stop there. Their appearance is daunting, the sounds they make are truly horrific, but the real terror lies in what they do to those they capture.
Zahler’s direction is incredible, leaving me in awe at this being his debut film. In addition to this, he accomplished way too much for a minuscule $1.8 million dollar budget that includes several notable stars. From the get-go you are sucked in thanks to great performances from everyone involved. I was especially impressed with Matthew Fox as John Brooder. He stole every scene he was in, and was quite the opposite in character of the guy we are used to seeing as Jack from the “Lost” television series. Kurt Russell is of course a joy to watch, and it is great to see him kicking ass again in a leading role. With great performances, engaging Wild West settings, and the ever-present feeling of doom when they enter the desert, you’ll won’t notice how long this film is or how long it takes for the horror to arrive. It is great direction like this that keeps you from losing interest in slow-burners. What really surprised me with Zahler’s direction is how he executed the horror. The final act isn’t only heavy in gore, but heavy in frontal gore that I was not expecting. He doesn’t shy away from the terror our protagonists are facing, and instead forces us to watch as they endure their friends being brutally gored to death (to be eaten later) in front of them. This direction took guts, and I applaud that.
Overall, Bone Tomahawk is one of my favorite experiences of 2015. It takes a while to get going, but it never loses your interest and delivers a solid payoff in the end.